United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
KENT 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 benefits under 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.
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 fifty years old as of her amended alleged onset date.
(PageID.103, 182.) She completed high school and was
previously employed as an assembler and laborer.
(PageID.70-71.) Plaintiff applied for widow's insurance
benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act on
June 20, 2012, alleging disability beginning October 6, 2008,
due to fibromyalgia, chronic osteoarthritis pain, sleep
apnea, arthritis throughout her body, knees needing
replacement, post traumatic stress nightmares, depression,
and carpal tunnel syndrome. (PageID.103-104, 167-173.)
Plaintiff's application was denied on March 25, 2013,
after which time she requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (ALJ). (PageID.115-120.) On August
26, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental
security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the act, again
alleging disability beginning October 6, 2008, due to the
above listed maladies. (PageID.185-190.) On March 12, 2014,
Plaintiff appeared with her counsel before ALJ James Prothro
for an administrative hearing on both applications. At the
hearing, testimony was heard from Plaintiff as well as a
vocational expert (VE). (PageID.60-96.) Plaintiff also
amended her alleged onset date to October 18, 2009.
(PageID.182.) In a partially favorable written decision,
dated May 9, 2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not
disabled prior to August 26, 2013, but became disabled on
that date and continued to be disabled through the date of
the decision. (PageID.37-59.) On October 9, 2015, the Appeals
Council declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it
the Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.25-29.) 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, prior to August 26, 2013, Plaintiff's
claim failed at step five. The ALJ first determined that
Plaintiff met the non-disability requirements for disabled
widow's benefits through August 29, 2010, the date on
which Plaintiff remarried, and which is termed the
“controlling date.” (PageID.44-45.) Then,
beginning with the evaluation at step one, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since her alleged disability 4. If an individual is capable
of performing work he or she has done in the past, a finding
of “not disabled” must be made (20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(e)); 5. If an individual's impairment is so
severe as to preclude the performance of past work, other
factors including age, education, past work experience, and
residual functional capacity must be considered to determine
if other work can be performed. (20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(f)). onset date. (PageID.53.) At step two, the ALJ found
that since the alleged disability onset date through August
29, 2010, Plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: (1) obesity; (2) bilateral carpal tunnel
syndrome; (3) epicondylitis; and (4) possible knee arthritis.
(PageID.45.) The ALJ further determined, at step two, that
beginning August 26, 2013, Plaintiff suffered from the severe
impairments of: (1) right ankle fracture status post open
reduction and internal fixation; (2) bilateral knee
osteoarthritis; (3) right hip trochanteric bursitis; (4)
fibromyalgia; and (5) obesity status post bariatric surgery.
(PageID.45.) At step three, the ALJ found that at all
relevant times, 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.47.) At step four, the ALJ
first determined that prior to August 26, 2013, Plaintiff
retained the RFC based on all the impairments:
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) with the following limitations: occasional
climbing ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes and scaffolds;
occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and
crawling; frequent bilateral fingering; and she should avoid
concentrated exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat,
humidity, vibration, and hazards.
Next, the ALJ determined that beginning August 26, 2013,