United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT, AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS
BERNARD A. FRIEDMAN SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is presently before the Court on cross motions for
summary judgment [docket entries 14 and 18]. Pursuant to E.D.
Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2), the Court shall decide these motions
without a hearing. For the reasons stated below, the Court
shall grant plaintiff's motion, deny defendant's
motion, and remand the case for further proceedings.
has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to
challenge defendant's final decision denying her
application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). An Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing in June 2015 (Tr. 24-54)
and issued a decision denying benefits in July 2015 (Tr.
10-20). This became defendant's final decision in August
2016 when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request
for review (Tr. 1-3).
§ 405(g), the issue before the Court is whether the
ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. As
the Sixth Circuit has explained, the Court
must affirm the Commissioner's findings if they are
supported by substantial evidence and the Commissioner
employed the proper legal standard. White, 572 F.3d
at 281 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)); Elam ex rel.
Golay v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th
Cir. 2003); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127
F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (internal quotation marks
omitted); see also Kyle, 609 F.3d at 854 (quoting
Lindsley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601,
604 (6th Cir. 2009)). Where the Commissioner's decision
is supported by substantial evidence, it must be upheld even
if the record might support a contrary conclusion. Smith
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 893 F.2d 106,
108 (6th Cir. 1989). However, a substantiality of evidence
evaluation does not permit a selective reading of the record.
“Substantiality of the evidence must be based upon the
record taken as a whole. Substantial evidence is not simply
some evidence, or even a great deal of evidence. Rather, the
substantiality of evidence must take into account whatever in
the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Garner
v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 388 (6th Cir. 1984) (internal
citations and quotation marks omitted).
Brooks v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 531 F. App'x
636, 640-41 (6th Cir. 2013).
time of her August 2014 hearing, plaintiff was 57 years old
(Tr. 27). She has a fourth grade education and work
experience as a hotel housekeeper, fast-food cook, and spot
welder (Tr. 28-31). Plaintiff claims she has been disabled
since April 2013 (Tr. 187) due to depression and problems
with her wrist, back, and shoulders (Tr. 32, 191) and pain in
her right arm and shoulder, legs, and knees (Tr. 31, 36).
Plaintiff also testified she has insomnia, crying spells, and
frequent headaches (Tr. 39-40, 45-46). She indicated she
wears a wrist splint constantly and uses a cane to walk (Tr.
32, 37). Plaintiff stated she can walk less than one block,
stand for ten minutes, sit for ten to fifteen minutes, and
lift at most five pounds (Tr. 41).
found that plaintiff's severe impairments are
“status post right shoulder surgery, right wrist
tendonitis, degenerative joint disorder of the right knee,
headaches, and obesity” (Tr. 15). The ALJ found that
plaintiff's brain cyst and depression are non-severe
impairments (Tr. 16). The ALJ found that plaintiff has the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a
limited range of light work and that her past work as a hotel
housekeeper is within this RFC (Tr. 17-20). The ALJ therefore
concluded that plaintiff is not disabled (Tr. 20).
reviewed the administrative record and the parties'
briefs, the Court concludes that the ALJ's decision in
this matter is not supported by substantial evidence because
her RFC evaluation of plaintiff is flawed. Substantial
evidence does not support the finding that plaintiff has the
RFC to perform her past work as a hotel housekeeper.
the ALJ erred in her evaluation of plaintiff's headaches.
While the ALJ found that plaintiff's headaches are among
her severe impairments (Tr. 15), she made no findings as to
the headaches' severity, frequency, or duration. And
while the ALJ asserted that “the claimant's alleged
chronic headaches . . . have been taken into account in the
adopted residual functional capacity” (Tr. 16 n.1), she
does not explain how she did so. Plaintiff testified that she
experiences headaches three to four times per week and that
they last two hours (Tr. 45). She also stated that when the
headaches occur, she must “sleep it off until the light
because I can't be around light” and that she feels
“like my eyes are coming out of my head” (Tr.
45-46). The ALJ did not reject this testimony, which leaves
it unrebutted. The vocational expert (“VE”)
testified that if plaintiff is “off task” more
than 20 percent of the workday, she would be unemployable
(Tr. 52). On remand, the ALJ must make specific findings as
to the severity, frequency, and duration of plaintiff's
headaches, and, as appropriate, revise her RFC evaluation of
plaintiff and her hypothetical question(s) to the VE
also erred by failing to properly evaluate plaintiff's
obesity. Under defendant's regulations, an adult with a
body mass index (“BMI”) of 30 or above is deemed
to be obese. See SSR 02-1p. Plaintiff's BMI is
at least 34 (Tr. 17). While obesity is no longer a
“listed impairment, ” this Social Security ruling
does require the ALJ to consider it at all steps of the
sequential process while evaluating applicants for disability
insurance benefits. See id., Policy Interpretation
¶ 3. Further,
[o]besity is a medically determinable impairment that is
often associated with disturbance of the musculoskeletal
system, and disturbance of this system can be a major cause
of disability in individuals with obesity. The combined
effects of obesity with musculoskeletal impairments can be
greater than the effects of each of the impairments
considered separately. Therefore, when determining whether an
individual with obesity has a listing-level impairment or
combination of impairments, and when assessing a claim at
other steps of the sequential evaluation process, including
when assessing an individual's residual functional
capacity, adjudicators must consider any additional
and cumulative effects of obesity.
20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 § 1.00Q (emphasis
present case, the ALJ found that plaintiff's
obesity is among her severe impairments (Tr. 15).
While the ALJ claimed to have “considered the effects
of the claimant's obesity in reducing the claimant's
residual functional capacity as described below pursuant to
SSR 02-01p” (Tr. 17), plaintiff's obesity is
mentioned nowhere else in the ALJ's decision. Nor did the
ALJ ask plaintiff if or how her weight affects her other
symptoms or her ability to work. In her written decision, the
ALJ entirely neglected to analyze the effect, if any, of
plaintiff's obesity on her “degenerative joint
disorder of the right knee” (clearly, a
“musculoskeletal impairment” under SSR 02-1p),
which the ALJ found to be among plaintiff's severe
impairments (Tr. 15), or on her “degenerative joint
disorder of the right ankle and foot, ” which she
found, by itself, to be a non-severe impairment (Tr. 16).
While a person of normal weight with such disorders might be
able to do the walking and standing required by light-level
work, an obese person may well not be able to do so because
of the extra stress being placed on the affected joints. On
remand, the ALJ must determine how obese plaintiff was during
the relevant time period, and consider the effects, if any,
of her obesity on her other ...