United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Northern Division
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S OPINION AND ORDER ON CROSS
MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCS. 18, 19)
Patricia T. Morris United States Magistrate Judge
Introduction and Procedural History
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), E.D. Mich. LR 72.1(b)(3),
and by Notice of Reference, this case was referred to the
undersigned Magistrate Judge for the purpose of reviewing a
final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff Melanie
Roy's (“Roy”) claim for a period of
disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., and Supplemental
Security Income Benefits (“SSI”) under Title XVI,
42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. (Doc. 3). On July 26,
2016, the parties consented to the undersigned magistrate
judge conducting all proceedings. (Doc. 16.) The matter is
currently before the Court on cross-motions for summary
judgment. (Docs. 18, 19).
September 9 and 27, 2013, Roy filed applications for DIB and
SSI, alleging a disability onset date of June 15, 2011 (in
her DIB application) and December 15, 2011 (in her SSI
application). (Tr. 230-44). The Commissioner denied her
claims. (Tr. 136-67). Roy then requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which occurred
on May 21, 2014 before ALJ Jessica Inouye. (Tr. 29-86). At
the hearing, Roy- represented by her attorney, Steven
Harthorn-testified and amended her alleged onset date to
February 2, 2012, (Tr. 34), alongside Vocational Expert
(“VE”) Glee Ann Kehr. (Tr. 29-86). The ALJ's
written decision, issued September 23, 2014, found Roy not
disabled. (Tr. 14-28). On February 19, 2016, the Appeals
Council denied review, (Tr. 1-4), and Roy filed for judicial
review of that final decision on April 12, 2016. (Doc. 1).
Standard of Review
district court has jurisdiction to review the
Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The district court's review is
restricted solely to determining whether the
“Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal
standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by
substantial evidence in the record.” Sullivan v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 595 F App'x. 502, 506 (6th
Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). Substantial
evidence is “more than a scintilla of evidence but less
than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
Court must examine the administrative record as a whole, and
may consider any evidence in the record, regardless of
whether it has been cited by the ALJ. See Walker v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 884 F.2d 241,
245 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court will not “try the case
de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide
questions of credibility.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir.
1994). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence, “it must be affirmed even if the
reviewing court would decide the matter differently and even
if substantial evidence also supports the opposite
conclusion.” Id. at 286 (internal citations
Framework for Disability Determinations
the Act, “DIB and SSI are available only for those who
have a ‘disability.'” Colvin v.
Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007).
“Disability” means the inability
to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of
any medically determinable physical or mental impairment
which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted
or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not
less than [twelve] months.
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (DIB); 20
C.F.R. § 416.905(a) (SSI). The Commissioner's
regulations provide that disability is to be determined
through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:
Step One: If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity, benefits are denied without further
Step Two: If the claimant does not have a severe impairment
or combination of impairments that “significantly
limits . . . physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities, ” benefits are denied without further
Step Three: If the claimant is not performing substantial
gainful activity, has a severe impairment that is expected to
last for at least twelve months, and the severe impairment
meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the
regulations, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be
disabled regardless of age, education or work experience.
Step Four: If the claimant is able to perform his or her past
relevant work, benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Five: Even if the claimant is unable to perform his or
her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national
economy that plaintiff can perform, in view of his or her
age, education, and work experience, benefits are denied.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. See also Heston
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir.
2001). “Through step four, the claimant bears the
burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations
caused by [his or] her impairments and the fact that she is
precluded from performing [his or] her past relevant
work.” Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336
F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). The burden transfers to the
Commissioner if the analysis reaches the fifth step without a
finding that the claimant is not disabled. Combs v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 643 (6th Cir.
2006). At the fifth step, the Commissioner is required to
show that “other jobs in significant numbers exist in
the national economy that [the claimant] could perform given
[his or] her RFC [residual functional capacity] and
considering relevant vocational factors.”
Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), (g)).
the authority of the Social Security Act, the SSA has
promulgated regulations that provide for the payment of
disabled child's insurance benefits if the claimant is at
least eighteen years old and has a disability that began
before age twenty-two (20 C.F.R. 404.350(a) (5) (2013). A
claimant must establish a medically determinable physical or
mental impairment (expected to last at least twelve months or
result in death) that rendered her unable to engage in
substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
The regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation for
evaluating disability claims. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ found Roy not
disabled under the Act. (Tr. 14-28). At Step One, the ALJ
found that Roy met the insured status requirements of the Act
through December 31, 2015, and had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since her alleged onset date of February 2,
2012. (Tr. 19). At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that Roy had
the following severe impairments: “bilateral carpal
tunnel syndrome, major depression, left rotator cuff tear,
headaches, degenerative disc disease, pelvic organ prolapse
and obesity . . . .” (Id.). The ALJ also
decided, however, that none of these impairments, either
singly or in combination, met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 19-21). The ALJ then found
that Roy had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work with the following
[F]requent performance of postural activities but no climbing
of ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasional reaching overhead
with her left (non-dominant) arm; avoidance of concentrated
exposure to temperature extremes, pulmonary irritants and
hazards and even moderate exposure to vibrations; and
limitation to unskilled simple, routine, repetitive tasks.
(Tr. 21). At Step Four, the ALJ found Roy unable of
performing any past relevant work. (Tr. 23). Thereafter, the
ALJ found that there nevertheless remained “jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy”
that Roy could perform. (Tr. 23).
Court has reviewed Roy's medical record. In lieu of
summarizing her medical history here, the Court will make
references and provide citations to the record as necessary
in its discussion of the parties' arguments.
Application Reports and Administrative Hearing
filled out a Function Report on October 11, 2013. (Tr.
297-304). Describing her condition, she noted “lots of
c[h]ronic pain” in her stomach, colon, and vagina. (Tr.
297). In a typical day, she bathed, dressed, fixed breakfast,
and watched television. (Tr. 298). She indicated that she
lived with and took care of her son without help.
(Id.). Before her illness, she could “walk
fast” and “dance, ” which she could no
longer do. (Id.). Her pain would keep her up at
night. (Id.). She denoted an inability to dress,
bathe, care for her hair, feed herself, and use the toilet.
Roy indicated that she prepared her own meals-canned goods
and fried foods “daily if . . . hungry.” (Tr.
199). This took “maybe 5-15 min[utes], ” and she
would “sit sometimes” while cooking.
(Id.). Aside from making her bed “sometimes,
” she denied doing chores. (Id.). With house
and yard work, Roy's son “help[ed] because of [her]
pain.” (Tr. 300). When she left the house, it was to
attend doctor's appointments or shop for food, but she
could not drive because doing so scared her and she held no
driver's license. (Id.). She retained, however,
an ability to pay bills, count change, handle a savings
account, and use a checkbook or money orders. (Id.).
She listed no hobbies as “things are to[o] painful . .
. .” (Tr. 301). The only social events she attended
were “family gatherings” on Christmas and
respect to her physical abilities, Roy reported difficulty
with lifting, squatting, bending, standing, walking,
kneeling, and stair climbing. (Tr. 302). She averred a
capacity to walk only three feet before needing to rest
twenty minutes. (Id.). A doctor prescribed her a
cane to assist with ambulation, which she found difficult.
son, Andrew, also filled out a Third-Party Function Report.
(Tr. 271-78). It largely duplicates the information provided
in Roy's Function Report, though elaborates on the ...