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Caldwell v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

February 10, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Honorable Laurie J. Michelson, Judge


          ELIZABETH A. STAFFORD United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff William Caldwell appeals a final decision of defendant Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying his applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income Benefits (SSI) under the Social Security Act. Both parties have filed summary judgment motions, referred to this Court for a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). After review of the record, the Court finds that the administrative law judge's (ALJ) decision is supported by substantial evidence, and thus RECOMMENDS that:

. the Commissioner's motion [ECF No. 17] be GRANTED;
. Caldwell's motion [ECF No. 14] be DENIED; and
. the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Caldwell's Background and Disability Applications

         Born July 17, 1967, Caldwell was 43 years old when he submitted his disability applications on June 15, 2011. [ECF No. 10-5, Tr. 207]. He had past relevant work as a pulper, lead person, garbage collector/driver, and truss assembler. [ECF No. 10-2, Tr. 20-21]. Caldwell alleged disability from chronic back and neck pain, depression, nerve damage to the neck requiring surgery, inability to grip with either hand, chronic lower back pain, cellulitis in the left leg, and hypothyroidism, with an onset date of July 8, 2007. [ECF No. 10-6, 238, 248].

         After his application was denied initially, Caldwell requested a hearing, which took place on April 19, 2013, and included testimony from Caldwell and a vocational expert (“VE”). [ECF No. 10-2, Tr. 28-39]. A supplemental hearing was held on October 8, 2013. [ECF No. 10-2, Tr. 40-84]. In an April 25, 2014, written decision, the ALJ found Caldwell to be not disabled. [Id., Tr. 13-22]. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner, and Caldwell timely filed for judicial review. [Id., Tr. 1-6; ECF No. 1].

         B. The ALJ's Application of the Disability Framework

         DIB and SSI are available for those who have a “disability.” See Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). A “disability” is the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A).

         The Commissioner determines whether an applicant is disabled by analyzing five sequential steps. First, if the applicant is “doing substantial gainful activity, ” he or she will be found not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).[1] Second, if the claimant has not had a severe impairment or a combination of such impairments[2] for a continuous period of at least 12 months, no disability will be found. Id. Third, if the claimant's severe impairments meet or equal the criteria of an impairment set forth in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments, the claimant will be found disabled. Id. If the fourth step is reached, the Commissioner considers its assessment of the claimant's residual functional capacity, and will find the claimant not disabled if he or she can still do past relevant work. Id. At the final step, the Commissioner reviews the claimant's RFC, age, education and work experiences, and determines whether the claimant could adjust to other work. Id. The claimant bears the burden of proof throughout the first four steps, but the burden shifts to the Commissioner if the fifth step is reached. Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).

         Applying this framework, the ALJ concluded that Caldwell was not disabled. At the first step, he found that the evidence was insufficient to establish that Caldwell had engaged in any substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date. [ECF No. 10-2, Tr. 15]. At the second step, he found that Caldwell had the severe impairments of “degenerative disc disease, generalized anxiety disorder and a history of substance abuse (in apparent remission).” [Id., Tr. 16]. Next, the ALJ found that Caldwell did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. [Id.].

         Between steps three and four, the ALJ found that Caldwell had the RFC to perform light work, [3] except that he “is limited to occasional overhead reaching bilaterally, must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards and vibration, and is limited to simple, routine jobs in a low-contact setting involving no contact with the general public and only occasional contact with coworkers and supervisors.” [Id., Tr. 17].

         At step four, the ALJ found that Caldwell could not perform past relevant work. [Id., Tr. 20-21]. With the assistance of VE testimony, the ALJ determined at step five that based on Caldwell's age, education, work experience and RFC, he could perform the positions of mail clerk, cleaner/housekeeper, bakery worker, addresser, document preparer, and ampule sealer, for which ...

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