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Taylor-Walton v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 7, 2017




         Plaintiff Tammy Dee Taylor-Walton seeks judicial review of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's determination that she is not entitled to Social Security benefits for her physical and mental impairments under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Docket no. 1.) Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 21) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 22). With consent of the parties, this case has been referred to the undersigned for final judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. (Docket no. 18.) The Court has reviewed the pleadings, dispenses with a hearing pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f)(2), and is now ready to rule.


         Plaintiff protectively filed applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on August 9, 2012, alleging that she has been disabled since April 2, 2010, due to her physical and mental impairments. (TR 26, 135-41.) The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's claims on November 8, 2012, and Plaintiff requested a de novo hearing. (TR 92, 99-100.) On December 13, 2013, Plaintiff appeared with a representative and testified at the hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Ramona Fernandez. (TR 42-77.) In a January 31, 2014 decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits because she was capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (TR 37.) The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision (TR 1-6), and Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review. The parties then filed cross motions for summary judgment, which are currently before the Court. (Docket nos. 21, 22.)


         In her brief, Plaintiff sets forth a short summary of the procedural history of this matter and highlights a few points from the medical record. (Docket no. 21 at 2-3.) Defendant (docket no. 22 at 6-10) and the ALJ (TR 31-36) each set out a detailed, factual recitation with regard to Plaintiff's medical record and the hearing testimony. Having conducted an independent review of Plaintiff's medical record and the hearing transcript, the undersigned finds that there are no material inconsistencies among these recitations of the record. Therefore, the undersigned incorporates the factual recitations by reference. Additionally, the undersigned will include comments and citations to the record as necessary throughout this Report and Recommendation.


         The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2015; that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of April 2, 2010; and that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: headaches, osteoarthritis, hypertension, chronic pulmonary disease (COPD), non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, obesity, depression, and anxiety. (TR 28.) Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments, either individually or when combined, did not meet or medically equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (TR 28-30.) The ALJ then found that Plaintiff's allegations regarding the extent of her symptoms were not “entirely credible” and that Plaintiff had the following Residual Functional Capacity (RFC):

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), with the following limitations: the claimant can stand and/or walk for no more than six hours of an eight-hour workday. She can lift no more than twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. The claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and can only occasionally stoop, kneel, crawl, balance, or climb ramps or stairs. She must be able to change positions after sitting or standing for twenty minutes. The claimant can frequently (but not constantly) handle, finger, and grip. She must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes or other respiratory irritants, as well as work at unprotected heights. The claimant is limited to unskilled work with simple instructions; no more than routine changes; only occasional contact with supervisors; and only brief or superficial interaction with coworkers or the public.

(TR 30.) Subsequently, in reliance on the testimony of the Vocational Expert (VE), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing a number of jobs in the national economy. (TR 37.) Therefore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act at any time from April 2, 2010, through the date of the decision. (TR 38.)


         A. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decisions. Judicial review of the Commissioner's decisions is limited to determining whether his findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether he employed the proper legal standards. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Walters, 127 F.3d at 528. It is not the function of this Court to try cases de novo, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or decide questions of credibility. See Brainard v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989); Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984).

         In determining the existence of substantial evidence, the Court must examine the administrative record as a whole. See Kirk v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 536 (6th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it must be affirmed, even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently, Kinsella v. Schweiker, 708 F.2d 1058, 1059 (6th Cir. 1983), and even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. See Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999); Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (en banc) (noting that the substantial evidence standard “presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which the decisionmakers can go either way, without interference by the courts”).

         B. Framework for Social ...

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