United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
J. QUIST UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision by the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(Commissioner) denying Plaintiff's claim for disability
insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social
Security Act. Section 405(g) limits the Court to a review of
the administrative record, and provides that if the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, it shall be conclusive. The Commissioner has found
that Plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act.
scope of judicial review in a social security case is limited
to determining whether the Commissioner applied the proper
legal standards in making her decision and whether there
exists in the record substantial evidence supporting that
decision. See Brainard v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court may
not conduct a de novo review of the case, resolve
evidentiary conflicts, or decide questions of credibility.
See Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir.
1984). It is the Commissioner who is charged with finding the
facts relevant to an application for disability benefits, and
her findings are conclusive provided they are supported by
substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance. See Cohen v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir. 1992)
(citations omitted). It is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
401 (1971); Bogle v. Sullivan, 998 F.2d 342, 347
(6th Cir. 1993). In determining the substantiality of the
evidence, the Court must consider the evidence on the record
as a whole and take into account whatever evidence in the
record fairly detracts from its weight. See Richardson v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 735 F.2d 962,
963 (6th Cir. 1984). The substantial evidence standard
presupposes the existence of a zone within which the decision
maker can properly rule either way, without judicial
interference. See Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545
(6th Cir. 1986) (citation omitted). This standard affords to
the administrative decision maker considerable latitude, and
indicates that a decision supported by substantial evidence
will not be reversed simply because the evidence would have
supported a contrary decision. See Bogle, 998 F.2d
at 347; Mullen, 800 F.2d at 545.
was forty-one years of age on the date of the ALJ's
decision. (PageID.35, 62.) He previously obtained a high
school education and had been employed as a welder/grinder.
(PageID.80.) Plaintiff applied for benefits on July 1, 2013,
alleging that he had been disabled since June 11, 2008, due
to a low back injury / herniated lumbar disc with
radiculopathy, headaches, and TMJ. (PageID.91, 154-155.) This
application was denied on October 1, 2013, after which time
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ.
(PageID.104-116.) Shortly before the hearing, Plaintiff's
counsel authored a letter amending the onset date to October
31, 2012. (PageID.164.) On September 3, 2014, Plaintiff
appeared with his counsel before ALJ Nicholas Ohanesian for
an administrative hearing, at which time both Plaintiff and a
vocational expert (VE) testified. (PageID.54-89.) On November
14, 2014, the ALJ issued his written decision, concluding
that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.35-52.) On February
24, 2016, the Appeals Council declined to review the
ALJ's decision, making it the Commissioner's final
decision in the matter. (PageID.28-32.) Plaintiff
subsequently initiated this action under 42 U.S.C. §
insured status expired on December 31, 2013. (PageID.91.)
Accordingly, to be eligible for DIB under Title II of the
Social Security Act, Plaintiff must establish that he became
disabled prior to the expiration of his insured status.
See 42 U.S.C. § 423; Moon v. Sullivan,
923 F.2d 1175, 1182 (6th Cir. 1990).
social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a-f). If the Commissioner can make a dispositive
finding at any point in the review, no further finding is
required. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The
regulations also provide that if a claimant suffers from a
nonexertional impairment as well as an exertional impairment,
both are considered in determining the claimant's
residual functional capacity (RFC). See 20 C.F.R.
has the burden of proving the existence and severity of
limitations caused by his impairments and that he is
precluded from performing past relevant work through step
four. Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d
469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). At step five, it is the
Commissioner's burden “to identify a significant
number of jobs in the economy that accommodate the
claimant's residual functional capacity (determined at
step four) and vocational profile.” Id.
determined Plaintiff's claim failed at step five. At step
one the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity during the period between his
alleged disability onset date and his date last
insured. (PageID.40.) At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of: (1)
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with stenosis
and radiculopathy; (2) migraine headaches; and (3)
temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). (PageID.40-41.) At
step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled
the requirements of the Listing of Impairments found in 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. (PageID.41.) At step four,
the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC based on all
the impairments to perform:
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a). The claimant
can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but can never climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds. He can occasionally balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. He is limited to frequent
exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, humidity, hazards,
lighting and noise above that of a normal office environment.
Further, he must be provided the opportunity to change
positions from standing to sitting or vice versa for one to
two minutes every fifteen minutes.
Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his past relevant
work. (PageID.46.) At the fifth step, the ALJ questioned the
VE to determine whether a significant number of jobs exist in
the economy that Plaintiff could perform given his
limitations. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. The VE
testified that Plaintiff could perform work in the following
representative jobs: packager sorter (3, 000 positions),
cashier (4, 000 positions), and assembler (3, 500 positions).
(PageID.80-84.) Based on this record, the ...