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Jones v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 30, 2017

DAVID BERNARD JONES Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [20] AND DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [22]

          MONA K. MAJZOUB, MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff David Bernard Jones seeks judicial review of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's determination that he is not entitled to social security benefits for his physical impairments under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Docket no. 1.) Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 20) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 22). With consent of the parties, this case has been referred to the undersigned for final judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. (Docket no. 16.) The Court has reviewed the pleadings, dispenses with a hearing pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f)(2), and is now ready to rule.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff protectively filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on February 7, 2013, alleging disability beginning November 1, 2011, due to injuries that he suffered to his lower back and “both leg calfs” when he was hit by a car. (TR 70-71, 124-33, 146.) The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's claims on May 15, 2013, and Plaintiff requested a de novo hearing. (TR 50-71, 88-89.) On July 11, 2014, Plaintiff appeared with a representative and testified at the hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) John Dodson. (TR 29-49.) In a December 10, 2014 decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits because he was capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (TR 15-25.) The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision (TR 1-4), and Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review. The parties then filed cross motions for summary judgment, which are currently before the Court.

         II. HEARING TESTIMONY AND MEDICAL EVIDENCE

         Plaintiff (docket no. 20 at 5-10), and the ALJ (TR 19-23, 25) have set forth detailed, factual summaries of Plaintiff's medical record and the hearing testimony. Defendant adopts the ALJ's recitation of the facts. (Docket no. 22 at 4.) Having conducted an independent review of Plaintiff's medical record and the hearing transcript, the undersigned finds that there are no material inconsistencies between these recitations of the record. Therefore, the undersigned will incorporate the factual recitations by reference. Additionally, the undersigned will include comments and citations to the record as necessary throughout this Opinion and Order.

         III. ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE'S DETERMINATION

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of November 1, 2011, and that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and diabetes. (TR 17.) Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (TR 17-18.) The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the following residual functional capacity (RFC):

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) with the following limitations: no climbing ropes, ladders, or scaffolds, and only occasional remaining posturals; able to alternate between sitting and standing, but no more than 4 times per hour; and no concentrated exposure to hazards, such as unprotected heights or moving machinery.

(TR 18-24.) Subsequently, in reliance on the vocational expert's (VE's) testimony, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (TR 24-25.) Therefore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act at any time from November 1, 2011, through the date of the decision. (TR 15, 25.)

         IV. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decisions. Judicial review of the Commissioner's decisions is limited to determining whether his findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether he employed the proper legal standards. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Walters v. Comm'r, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Walters, 127 F.3d at 528. It is not the function of this Court to try cases de novo, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or decide questions of credibility. See Brainard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989); Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984).

         In determining the existence of substantial evidence, the court must examine the administrative record as a whole. See Kirk v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 536 (6th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it must be affirmed, even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently, Kinsella v. Schweiker, 708 F.2d 1058, 1059 (6th Cir. 1983), and even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. See Her v. Comm'r, 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999); Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (en banc) (noting that ...


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