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Black v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

March 28, 2017

CATHERINE BLACK, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION

          RAY KENT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her claim for child's insurance benefits.

         Plaintiff was previously found eligible for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI). PageID.40. In a hearing decision dated February 23, 2004, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) William E. Decker found plaintiff disabled as of October 15, 2001. PageID.40, 113-118. At that time, plaintiff was 25 years old. PageID.42. The present case involves plaintiff's January 8, 2013 application for child's insurance benefits, based upon both her mother's and her father's accounts. PageID.40. In this application, plaintiff alleged a disability beginning March 31, 1998, one month prior to attainment of age 22. Id. In addressing this new claim, ALJ Luke A. Brennan stated that:

The issue is whether the claimant is disabled under section 223(d) of the Social Security Act. Disability is defined as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.
As required by section 202(d) of the Social Security Act, to be entitled to child's insurance benefits, the claimant must have a disability that began before attainment of age 22.

Page ID.40. ALJ Brennan further explained that, “[u]nder the authority of the Social Security Act, the Social Security Administration has promulgated regulations that provide for the payment of disabled child's insurance benefits if the claimant is 18 years old or older and has a disability that began before attaining age 22 (20 CFR 404.350(a)(5)).[1]

         Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of March 31, 1998 (about two weeks before her 22nd birthday) with alleged disabling conditions of major depression, substance abuse, borderline personality disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). PageID.233, 238. ALJ Brennan reviewed plaintiff's claim de novo and entered a decision denying benefits on April 16, 2014. PageID.40-51. While ALJ Brennan found that plaintiff was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act since age 25 (2001), she was not disabled under the Act prior to attaining age 22 (1998). This decision, which was later approved by the Appeals Council, has become the final decision of the Commissioner and is now before the Court for review.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         This court's review of the Commissioner's decision is typically focused on determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C.§405(g); McKnight v. Sullivan, 927 F.2d 241 (6th Cir. 1990). “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.” Cutlip v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). A determination of substantiality of the evidence must be based upon the record taken as a whole. Young v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 925 F.2d 146 (6th Cir. 1990).

         The scope of this review is limited to an examination of the record only. This Court does not review the evidence de novo, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Brainard v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989). The fact that the record also contains evidence which would have supported a different conclusion does not undermine the Commissioner's decision so long as there is substantial support for that decision in the record. Willbanks v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 847 F.2d 301, 303 (6th Cir. 1988). Even if the reviewing court would resolve the dispute differently, the Commissioner's decision must stand if it is supported by substantial evidence. Young, 925 F.2d at 147.

         A claimant must prove that he suffers from a disability in order to be entitled to benefits. A disability is established by showing that the claimant cannot engage in 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. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.905; Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990). In applying the above standard, the Commissioner has developed a five-step analysis:

The Social Security Act requires the Secretary to follow a “five-step sequential process” for claims of disability. First, plaintiff must demonstrate that she is not currently engaged in “substantial gainful activity” at the time she seeks disability benefits. Second, plaintiff must show that she suffers from a “severe impairment” in order to warrant a finding of disability. A “severe impairment” is one which “significantly limits . . . physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” Third, if plaintiff is not performing substantial gainful activity, has a severe impairment that is expected to last for at least twelve months, and the impairment meets a listed impairment, plaintiff is presumed to be disabled regardless of age, education or work experience. Fourth, if the plaintiff's impairment does not prevent her from doing her past relevant work, plaintiff is not disabled. For the fifth and final step, even if the plaintiff's impairment does prevent her from doing her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that plaintiff can perform, plaintiff is not disabled.

Heston v. Commissioner of Social Security, 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted).

         The claimant bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by her impairments and the fact that she is precluded from performing her past relevant work through step four. Jones v. Commissioner of Social Security, 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). However, at step five of the inquiry, “the burden shifts to the Commissioner to identify a significant number of jobs in the economy that accommodate the claimant's residual functional capacity (determined at step four) and vocational profile.” Id. If it is determined that a claimant is or is not disabled at any point in the evaluation process, further review is not necessary. Mullis v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 991, 993 (6th Cir. 1988).

         “The federal court's standard of review for SSI cases mirrors the standard applied in social security disability cases.” D'Angelo v. Commissioner of Social Security, 475 F.Supp.2d 716, 719 (W.D. Mich. 2007). “The proper inquiry in an application for SSI benefits is whether the plaintiff was disabled on or after her application date.” Casey v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993).

         II. ALJ'S DECISION

         Plaintiff's claim failed at the fifth step of the evaluation. The ALJ initially found that plaintiff had not attained the age of 22 as of the alleged disability onset date of March 31, 1998, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since that date. Page ID.42. Second, the ALJ found that prior to attaining age 22, plaintiff had severe impairments of depression and dysthymic disorder. Page ID.42. At the third step, the ALJ found that prior to attaining age 22, plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the requirements of the Listing of Impairments in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. Page ID.43.

         The ALJ decided at the fourth step that:

prior to attaining age 22, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: she was limited to simple routine tasks involving no more than simple short instruction [sic] and simple work-related decision [sic] with few workplace changes.

         PageID.44. The ALJ also found that in 1996, the only year in which plaintiff had earnings consistent with substantial gainful activity, she worked for five different employers with total earnings of $6, 645.06. PageID.49. Because “none of these jobs were performed for a significant amount of time, ” the ALJ found that plaintiff had no past relevant work. Id.

         At the fifth step, the ALJ determined that plaintiff could perform unskilled work at all exertional levels in the national economy. PageID.50. Representative occupations in the regional economy (Michigan) for a person with plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC) included: grocery stocker (12, 000 jobs); dishwasher (7, 000 jobs); and hand packager (9, 000 jobs). Id.

         Accordingly, the ALJ determined that based on the application for child's insurance benefits, plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act prior to April 13, 1998, the date she attained age 22. PageID.50-51.

         III. ...


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