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) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI 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-eight years of age on the date of the ALJ's
decision. (PageID.34, 189.) She completed her formal
education after the tenth grade, and was previously employed
as a cashier / checker. (PageID.171-172, 310.) Plaintiff
applied for benefits on October 9, 2012, alleging disability
beginning September 22, 2012, due to a thyroid disorder,
double vision, and depression. (PageID.189, 297, 306.)
Plaintiff's applications were denied on January 25, 2013,
after which time she requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (ALJ). (PageID.275-285.) On November
12, 2013, Plaintiff appeared with her counsel before ALJ
William Reamon for an administrative hearing at which time
Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified.
(PageID.54-116.) A supplemental hearing was held on August
14, 2014, with additional testimony offered by Plaintiff, a
VE, and Dr. Jeffrey Horwitz, M.D., a non-examining medical
expert. (PageID.117-185.) In a written decision dated August
29, 2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.34-53.) On February 2, 2016, the Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it the
Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.24-27.) 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), 416.920(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), 416.920(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.
§§ 404.1545, 416.945.
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 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 her alleged disability
onset date of September 22, 2012. (PageID.39.) At step two,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following
severe impairments: (1) Graves' disease; (2) visual
impairment; (3) affective disorder; and (4) anxiety disorder.
(PageID.39-41.) 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.41-43.)
At step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC
based on all the impairments:
to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant
must be allowed to wear one eye patch, and she cannot be
required to perform work presented from the side of her eye
patch. Moreover, the claimant cannot be required to perform
reading, such as reading numbers on a screen or a paper, as a
basic part of her work functioning. The claimant cannot
perform commercial driving, perform hilo driving, or climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant must also avoid
exposure to dangerous moving machinery and unprotected
heights. Additionally, the claimant is limited to
understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple
instructions. The claimant can have no more than occasional
interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the general
(PageID.43.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work.
(PageID.51.) 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 her limitations.
See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. The expert
testified that Plaintiff could perform other work as a light
assembler (14, 000 regional jobs), packager (6, 300 regional
jobs), and sorter (3, 100 regional jobs). (PageID.174-179.)
Based on this record, the ALJ found ...