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Roy v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 23, 2017

MELANIE ROY, Plaintiff,


          Patricia T. Morris United States Magistrate Judge

         I. OPINION

         A. Introduction and Procedural History

         Pursuant 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).

         On 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).

         B. Standard of Review

         The 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).

         The 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 omitted).

         C. Framework for Disability Determinations

         Under 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 analysis.
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 analysis.
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)).

         Under 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.

         D. ALJ Findings

         Following 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 additional limitations:

[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).

         E. Administrative Record

         1. Medical Evidence

         The 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.

         2. Application Reports and Administrative Hearing

         i. Function Reports

         Roy 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. (Id.).

         Thereafter, 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 Thanksgiving. (Id.).

         With 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. (Tr. 303).

         Roy's 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 ...

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