United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
S. CARMODY United States Magistrate Judge
an action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's
claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of
the Social Security Act. The parties have agreed to proceed
in this Court for all further proceedings, including an order
of final judgment. (ECF No. 9.)
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.
Court's jurisdiction is confined to a review of the
Commissioner's decision and of the record made in the
administrative hearing process. See Willbanks v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 847 F.2d 301,
303 (6th Cir. 1988). The 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 thirty-nine years of age on the date of the ALJ's
decision. (PageID.33, 253, 266.) She graduated from college
with a degree in criminal justice, and was previously
employed as a corrections officer and tax preparer.
(PageID.47, 61, 99.) Plaintiff has previously applied for
benefits on several occasions. In the case immediately prior
to the instant matter, Plaintiff's application was denied
by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Lori Freund on January 25,
2012. (PageID.229-246.) The decision was upheld by the
Appeals Council on May 9, 2013. (PageID.247-252.) It does not
appear that application was further pursued. Instead, roughly
two months later, on July 28, 2013, Plaintiff applied for DIB
and SSI benefits alleging disability due to dysthymia,
depression, and anxiety. Plaintiff also provided an amended
alleged disability onset date of January 25, 2012, the day
after the prior decision. (PageID.62, 253, 266, 333-342.)
applications were denied on January 3, 2014, after which time
she requested a hearing before an ALJ. (PageID.282-291.) On
December 12, 2014, Plaintiff appeared with her counsel before
ALJ Michael S. Condon for an administrative hearing at which
time Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified.
(PageID.55-111.) At the hearing, Plaintiff's counsel
asked the ALJ to reopen her prior applications due to a
diagnosis of narcolepsy after those decisions. In a written
decision dated February 6, 2015, the ALJ declined to reopen
the prior decisions and further determined that Plaintiff was
not disabled. (PageID.33-54.) On March 3, 2016, the Appeals
Council declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it
the Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.24-30.) Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a-f), 416.920(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), 416.920(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.
§§ 404.1545, 416.945.
burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely
on Plaintiff's shoulders, and she can satisfy her burden
by demonstrating that her impairments are so severe that she
is unable to perform her previous work and cannot,
considering her age, education, and work experience, perform
any other substantial gainful employment existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. See 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Cohen. 964 F.2d at 528.
While the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step
five, Plaintiff bears the burden of proof through step four
of the procedure, the point at which her residual functional
capacity (RFC) is determined. See Bowen v. Yuckert,
482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); Walters v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997) (noting
that the ALJ determines RFC at step four, at which point the
claimant bears the burden of proof).
determined that Plaintiff's claim failed at step five. At
step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability
onset date. (PageID.39.) At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: (1)
personality disorder; (2) dysthymic disorder / depressive
disorder / major depressive disorder; (3) narcolepsy with
cataplexy; and (4) periodic limb movement disorder.
(PageID.39-40.) 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.40-42.)
At step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC
based on all the impairments:
to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: she is limited
to doing only simple, routine and repetitive work that is
performed in a low-stress work environment with no specific
production quotas. She can have only occasional contact with
the general public, coworkers, and supervisors and can
tolerate no more than frequent workplace changes. She is
limited to making simple work-related decisions. The claimant
can have no exposure to ...