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) under Title II
of the Social Security Act. The parties agreed to proceed in
this Court for all further proceedings, including an order of
final judgment. (ECF No. 9). 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.
For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that the
Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence. Accordingly, the Commissioner's decision is
vacated and this matter remanded for further factual findings
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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 and Human Services, 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 and Human Services, 889 F.2d 679,
681 (6th Cir. 1989).
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).
Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than
a preponderance. See Cohen v. Sec'y of Dep't of
Health and Human Services, 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 in the record
fairly detracts from its weight. See Richardson v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 735 F.2d 962,
963 (6th Cir. 1984).
been widely recognized, 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 47 years of age on her alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.186). She successfully completed high school and
worked previously as an auto mechanic helper, cashier, and
audit clerk. (PageID.55). Plaintiff applied for benefits on
May 16, 2013, alleging that she had been disabled since
January 18, 2013, due to fibromyalgia, degenerative bone
disease, osteoarthritis, nerve damage, neck pain, headaches,
left foot pain, fatigue, stress, and anxiety. (PageID.186-87,
203). Plaintiff's application was denied, after which
time she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ). (PageID.107-84). On December 17, 2014, Plaintiff
appeared before ALJ Nicholas Ohanesian with testimony being
offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (PageID63-105).
In a written decision dated January 30, 2015, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.46-57).
The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's
determination, rendering it the Commissioner's final
decision in the matter. (PageID.28-32). Plaintiff
subsequently initiated this pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision.
OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
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 her residual functional capacity.
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 of the sequential evaluation process, Plaintiff bears
the burden of proof through step four of the procedure, the
point at which her residual functioning 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).
determined that Plaintiff suffers from: (1) degenerative disc
disorder; (2) bone fractures of the foot; (3) migraine
headaches; (4) fibromyalgia including joint pain; (5)
cardiopulmonary disease including asthma; and (6) affective
disorders, severe impairments that whether considered alone
or in combination with other impairments, failed to satisfy
the requirements of any impairment identified in the Listing
of Impairments detailed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (PageID.48-50). With respect to Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
retained the capacity to perform sedentary work subject to
the following limitations: (1) she can occasionally climb
ramps or stairs, but can never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; (2) she can occasionally balance, stoop, and
kneel, but can never crouch or crawl; (3) she requires the
ability to alternate between sitting and standing every 30
minutes for 1-2 minutes at a time; and (4) she is limited to
simple, routine, repetitive tasks. (PageID.50).
found that Plaintiff cannot perform her past relevant work at
which point the burden of proof shifted to the Commissioner
to establish by substantial evidence that a significant
number of jobs exist in the national economy which Plaintiff
could perform, her limitations notwithstanding. See
Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. While the ALJ is not
required to question a vocational expert on this issue,
“a finding supported by substantial evidence that a
claimant has the vocational qualifications to perform
specific jobs” is needed to meet the burden.
O'Banner v. Sec'y of Health and Human
Services, 587 F.2d 321, 323 (6th Cir. 1978) (emphasis
added). This standard requires more than mere intuition or
conjecture by the ALJ that the claimant can perform specific
jobs in the national economy. See Richardson, 735
F.2d at 964. Accordingly, ALJs routinely question vocational
experts in an attempt to determine whether there exist a
significant number of jobs which a particular claimant can
perform, her limitations notwithstanding. Such was the case
here, as the ALJ questioned a vocational expert.
vocational expert testified that there existed approximately
4, 500 jobs in the state of Michigan, and approximately 157,
000 nationwide, which an individual with Plaintiff's RFC
could perform, such limitations notwithstanding.
(PageID.91-102). This represents a significant number of
jobs. See Born v. Sec'y of Health and Human
Services, 923 F.2d 1168, 1174 (6th Cir. 1990); Hall
v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 272, 274 (6th Cir. 1988); Martin
v. Commissioner of Social Security, 17 ...