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 have agreed to
proceed in this Court for all further proceedings, including
an order of final judgment. (ECF No. 8.)
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-three years of age as of her alleged disability
onset date and fifty-five years of age on the date of the
ALJ's decision. (PageID.50, 117.) She obtained a high
school education and was previously employed as a hotel desk
clerk, plastic injection mold operator, school bus driver,
and as a general maintenance worker. (PageID.78, 109.)
Plaintiff applied for benefits on June 4, 2013, alleging
disability beginning April 30, 2013, due to coronary artery
and heart disease, as well as arthritis in her elbow with a
missing radial head bone. (PageID.117, 174-177.)
Plaintiff's application was denied on August 29, 2013,
after which time she requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (ALJ). (PageID.130-133.) On July 31,
2014, Plaintiff appeared with her counsel before ALJ William
Reamon for an administrative hearing at which time both
Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified.
(PageID.74-115.) In a written decision, dated October 30,
2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.50-73.) On March 21, 2016, the Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it the
Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.22-27.) 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 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 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
determined that Plaintiff's claim failed at step four. At
step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability
onset date of April 30, 2013. (PageID.55.) At step two, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments
of right upper extremity posttraumatic osteoarthritis and
cervical disc disease with radiculopathy. (PageID.55-56.) 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.56-60.) At step
four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC based on
all the impairments:
to lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds
frequently, stand and/or walk about 6 hours in an 8-hour
workday, and sit about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday with
normal breaks. The claimant is limited to only occasionally
pushing and/or pulling with the right (dominant) upper
extremity, and is limited to only occasional handling and
fingering with the right hand. There are no left-sided
limitations. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs,
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and has no limitation
balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling.
Additionally, the claimant would need to avoid environmental
factors such as unprotected heights and dangerous moving
(PageID.60.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant
work as a hotel desk clerk both as she performed it and as it
was generally performed within the national economy. The ALJ
concluded that this work did not require the performance of
work-related activities precluded by Plaintiff's RFC. In
doing so, the ALJ relied in part on the testimony of the VE
at the administrative hearing. (PageID.111-112.)
not required to do so, the ALJ included an alternative step
five finding that there were still other jobs existing in the
national economy that Plaintiff could perform. The ALJ
referenced the VE's testimony on the matter. See
Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. The expert testified that
Plaintiff could perform other work as an information clerk
(3, 100 regional and 37, 000 national positions), unskilled
sales attendant (3, 500 ...