United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
LYLE E. HODGES, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant,
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 Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II
of 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. 9.)
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.
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 & Human Servs., 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 & 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 forty-six years of age on the date of the ALJ's
decision. (PageID.48, 75.) He completed high school and was
previously employed as a spray paint technician, lawn care
worker, hog inseminator, and as a lead injection mold machine
operator. (PageID.77, 106.) Plaintiff applied for benefits on
November 19, 2012, alleging disability beginning October 4,
2011, due to congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, a
mass in his kidney, kidney stones, blood in his urine, sleep
apnea requiring oxygen assistance, severe fallen arches in
both of his feet, stage 2 diabetes, depression, rheumatoid
arthritis, and high blood pressure. (PageID.114, 175-176.)
Plaintiff's application was denied on June 13, 2013,
after which time he requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (ALJ). (PageID.126-129, 134-136.) On
May 28, 2014, Plaintiff appeared with his counsel before ALJ
Donna Grit for an administrative hearing at which time both
Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified.
(PageID.66-111.) In a written decision dated August 8, 2014,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.48-65.) On September 8, 2015, the Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it the
Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.27-32.) 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). 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). 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.
burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely
on Plaintiff's shoulders, and he can satisfy his burden
by demonstrating that his impairments are so severe that he
is unable to perform his previous work and cannot,
considering his 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 his 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 Plaintiff's claim failed at step five. At
step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since his alleged disability
onset date of October 4, 2011. (PageID.53.) At step two, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: (1) congestive heart failure; (2) hypertension;
(3) chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); (4)
obesity; (5) obstructive sleep apnea; (6) spondylosis of the
cervical and lumbar spine; and (7) bilateral pes planus with
degenerative changes and capsulitis. (PageID.53.) At step
three, the ALJ found that 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.55.) At step four,
the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC based on all
to perform a limited range of sedentary work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(a): he cannot lift and/or carry more than ten
pounds frequently; he cannot stand and/or walk for more than
a total of two hours in an eight-hour workday; and he cannot
sit for more than a total of six hours in an eight-hour
workday. He also cannot crawl or climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; he cannot work at unprotected heights or around
dangerous moving machinery; he cannot balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, or climb stairs/ramps more than occasionally; and he
cannot work with exposure to dust, fumes, odors, gases,
humidity, poor ventilation, extreme heat or cold more than
(PageID.55.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work.
(PageID.60.) At the fifth step, the ALJ questioned the VE to
determine whether a significant number of jobs exist in the
economy that Plaintiff could perform given his limitations.
See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. The expert
testified that Plaintiff could perform other work as an order
clerk (3, 100 regional and 35, 000 national positions),
security monitor (1, 400 regional and 18, 000 national
positions), and visual inspector (2, 800 regional and 24, 000
national positions). (PageID.106-108.) Based on this record,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of making a
successful adjustment to work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy. (PageID.61.)
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled from
October 4, 2011, the alleged disability onset date, through
August 8, 2014, the date of decision. (PageID.61.)
ALJ's Step Two Determination.
first argues that he is entitled to relief because the ALJ
failed to find that his diabetes and kidney conditions were
not severe impairments. (PageID.633-634, 659-661.) At step
two of the sequential disability analysis, the ALJ must
determine whether the claimant suffers from a severe
impairment. The Sixth Circuit has held that where the ALJ
finds the presence of a severe impairment at step two and
proceeds to continue through the remaining steps of the
analysis, the alleged failure to identify as severe some
other impairment constitutes harmless error so long as the
ALJ considered the entire medical record in rendering her
decision. See Maziarz v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 837 F.2d 240, 244 (6th Cir. 1987); Kirkland
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F. App'x ...