United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
KENT United States Magistrate Judge
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) which denied his claim for disability
insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income
alleged a disability onset date of April 15, 2012.
PageID.247. He identified his disabling conditions as bipolar
disorder, anxiety and related problems. PageID.251. Plaintiff
completed the 8th grade and had past employment as a painter
and decorator. PageID.252. An administrative law judge (ALJ)
reviewed plaintiff's claim de novo and entered a
written decision denying benefits on October 16, 2014.
PageID.63-75. 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.
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).
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.
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. §§ 404.1505 and 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
Heston v. Commissioner of Social Security, 245 F.3d
528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted).
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).
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).
present claim failed at the fifth step of the evaluation. At
the first step, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date
of April 15, 2012, and met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act through September 30, 2016.
PageID.65-66. At the second step, the ALJ found that
plaintiff had severe impairments as follows: a mood disorder
not otherwise specified; bipolar disorder; posttraumatic
stress disorder (PTSD); a panic disorder; antisocial
personality disorder; alcohol dependence disorder;
degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine and lumbar
spine; peripheral neuropathy; Dupuytren's contractures
bilaterally; right shoulder degenerative joint disease; and
cardiac dysrhythmias. PageID.66. At the third step, 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 in 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404, Subpt. P, App. 1. Id.
decided at the fourth step that:
[B]ased on all of the impairments, including the substance
use disorder, the claimant has the residual functional
capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except: he can climb no ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds; the claimant can perform occasional
crawling; he can perform no greater than frequent fingering
or handling bilaterally; the claimant can perform no overhead
reaching with his dominant light upper extremity; he is
limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks; the claimant
can have no contact with the public; he can have occasional
contact with co-workers and supervision; the claimant can
perform no production rate work; he can tolerate no more than
one change in the work setting per day; and the claimant will
be tardy, need to leave work early, or will otherwise be
absent four days per month on a regular and ongoing basis.
made additional findings to determine the impact of
plaintiff's substance abuse on his alleged disability.
See 42 U.S.C § 423(d)(2)(C) (for purposes of
obtaining Social Security benefits, “[a]n individual
shall not be considered to be disabled . . . if alcoholism or
drug addiction would . . . be a contributing factor material
to the Commissioner's determination that the individual
is disabled.”); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1535(b)(1)
(“The key factor [the Commissioner] will examine in
determining whether drug addiction or alcoholism is a
contributing factor material to the determination of
disability is whether [the Commissioner] would still find
[the claimant] disabled if [the claimant] stopped using drugs
determined that if plaintiff stopped the substance use, he
would have the same results through step three of the
sequential evaluation. PageID.70. However, the ALJ found that
if plaintiff stopped the substance use, he would have a more
expansive residual functional capacity (RFC):
If the claimant stopped the substance use, the claimant would
have the residual functional capacity to perform light work
as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except: he
could climb no ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; the claimant
could perform occasional crawling; he could perform no
greater than frequent fingering or handling bilaterally; the
claimant could perform no overhead reaching with his dominant
right upper extremity; he would be limited to simple,