United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT, AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS
BERNARD A. FRIEDMAN SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is presently before the Court on cross motions for
summary judgment [docket entries 15 and 16]. Pursuant to E.D.
Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2), the Court shall decide these motions
without a hearing. For the reasons stated below, the Court
shall grant plaintiff's motion, deny defendant's
motion, and remand the case for further proceedings.
has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to
challenge defendant's final decision denying her
application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) benefits. An Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing in June 2015 (Tr. 26-52)
and issued a decision denying benefits in August 2015 (Tr.
10-21). This became defendant's final decision in August
2016 when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request
for review (Tr. 1-3).
§ 405(g), the issue before the Court is whether the
ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. As
the Sixth Circuit has explained, the Court
must affirm the Commissioner's findings if they are
supported by substantial evidence and the Commissioner
employed the proper legal standard. White, 572 F.3d
at 281 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)); Elam ex rel.
Golay v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th
Cir. 2003); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127
F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (internal quotation marks
omitted); see also Kyle, 609 F.3d at 854 (quoting
Lindsley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601,
604 (6th Cir. 2009)). Where the Commissioner's decision
is supported by substantial evidence, it must be upheld even
if the record might support a contrary conclusion. Smith
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 893 F.2d 106,
108 (6th Cir. 1989). However, a substantiality of evidence
evaluation does not permit a selective reading of the record.
“Substantiality of the evidence must be based upon the
record taken as a whole. Substantial evidence is not simply
some evidence, or even a great deal of evidence. Rather, the
substantiality of evidence must take into account whatever in
the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Garner
v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 388 (6th Cir. 1984) (internal
citations and quotation marks omitted).
Brooks v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 531 F. App'x
636, 640-41 (6th Cir. 2013).
time of her February 2015 hearing, plaintiff was 45 years old
(Tr. 49). She has a high school education and no relevant
work experience (Tr. 49). Plaintiff claims she has been
disabled since September 2012 due to migraines, depression,
dyslexia, and nerve damage in her back, shoulders, and neck
found that plaintiff's severe impairments are
“dysfunction of a major joint, spine disorder,
disorders of muscle, ligament and fascia, and
migraines” and that her affective disorder is nonsevere
(Tr. 15). He found that despite these impairments plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform “light work as defined in 20 CFR
416.967(b) except frequent overhead reaching; never
climb ladders and scaffolds; and occasionally crawl”
(Tr. 17). A vocational expert (“VE”) testified in
response to a hypothetical question that a person of
plaintiff's age, education, and work experience, and who
has this RFC, could perform certain unskilled, light-level
jobs such as an inspector, packager, and office cleaner (Tr.
50). The ALJ cited this testimony as evidence that work
exists in significant numbers that plaintiff could perform
and concluded that she is not disabled (Tr. 20-21).
reviewed the administrative record and the parties'
briefs, the Court concludes that the ALJ's decision in
this matter is not supported by substantial evidence because
his RFC evaluation of plaintiff is flawed. Since the
hypothetical question incorporated this flawed RFC
evaluation, it failed to describe plaintiff in all relevant
respects and the VE's testimony given in response thereto
cannot be used to carry defendant's burden to prove the
existence of a significant number of jobs plaintiff is
capable of performing.
RFC evaluation is flawed for the following reasons. First,
the ALJ failed to consider the side effects of
plaintiff's medications. The record indicates that
plaintiff takes, or at various times has taken, a number of
medications, including Cymbalta, Norco, Vicodin, Butalbital,
Desipramine, Hydrocodone, Sumatriptan, Topamax, Gabapentin
(Neurontin), Methocarbamo (Robaxin), Naproxen, Sumatriptan
(Imitrex), Flexeril, Percocet, Maloxicam, Wellbutrin,
Bupropion, Duloxetine, and Topiramate (Tr. 31, 158, 183,
229-30, 232, 234, 237, 330, 338, 357, 442, 458), many of
which have known side effects. On her function and disability
reports plaintiff reported side effects of drowsiness, mood
swings, and depression (Tr. 183, 192) and at the hearing she
testified that her medications make her feel drowsy (Tr. 47).
Further, two of plaintiff's physicians noted she
experiences drowsiness and fatigue as medication side effects
(Tr. 322, 324), while another noted that one of
plaintiff's headache medications “helps but
decreases function” (Tr. 377).
ALJ's failure to make any findings as to this issue is an
error requiring remand, as the Sixth Circuit has held that
the ALJ must evaluate “[t]he type, dosage,
effectiveness, and side effects of any medication” as
part of the process of determining the extent to which side
effects impair a claimant's capacity to work. Keeton
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 583 F. App'x 515, 532
(6th Cir. 2014) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §
416.929(c)(3)(i)-(vi)). Further, hypothetical questions to
vocational experts must account for medication side effects.
See White v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 312 F.
App'x 779, 789-90 (6th Cir. 2009). On remand, the ALJ
must determine which medications plaintiff was taking during
the relevant time period; make findings as to the nature and
severity of these medications' side effects, if any;
adjust his findings as appropriate regarding plaintiff's
RFC; and incorporate these findings in proper hypothetical
questions to the VE.
the RFC evaluation is flawed because the ALJ neglected to
make required findings concerning the effect, if any, of
plaintiff's obesity on her other impairments. The record
contains several notations that plaintiff's body mass
index (“BMI) is over 30 (see, e.g., Tr. 215,
230, 340, 413, 464, 468, 471, 490), which is the point at
which defendant's regulations consider a person to be
obese. See SSR 02-1p. Under this SSR, the ALJ must
consider a disability claimant's obesity at all steps of
the sequential process. See id., Policy
Interpretation ¶ 3. Further,
[o]besity is a medically determinable impairment that is
often associated with disturbance of the musculoskeletal
system, and disturbance of this system can be a major cause
of disability in individuals with obesity. The combined
effects of obesity with musculoskeletal impairments can be
greater than the effects of each of the impairments
considered separately. Therefore, when determining whether an
individual with obesity has a listing-level impairment or
combination of impairments, and when assessing a claim at
other steps of the sequential evaluation process, including