United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
(DKT. 15, 16)
STEPHANIE DAWKINS DAVIS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Proceedings in this Court
February 25, 2015, plaintiff filed the instant suit seeking
judicial review of the Commissioner's unfavorable
decision disallowing benefits. (Dkt. 1). Pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72.1(b)(3),
District Judge Victoria A. Roberts referred this matter to
Magistrate Judge Michael Hluchaniuk for the purpose of
reviewing the Commissioner's decision denying
plaintiff's claims for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income. (Dkt. 4). On January 5, 2016,
this matter was reassigned to the undersigned Magistrate
Judge. See Text-Only Order of reassignment dated
1/5/16. On February 24, 2016, the parties filed a notice of
consent to this Magistrate Judge's authority, which was
signed by Judge Roberts. (Dkt. 19, 20). This matter is before
the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. 15,
16). Plaintiff also filed a reply brief in support of his
motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. 17).
Factual Background and Administrative Proceedings
John Lee Dejaeghere is a 50 year old man, who worked for
approximately 20 years in heavy construction repairing roads.
At 6'2” and 220 pounds, plaintiff was called upon
to lift items weighing as much as 100 pounds and otherwise
met the strenuous physical demands of a construction highway
laborer. However, by September of 2009, plaintiff alleges
that he was no longer able to handle the taxing demands on
his body. Specifically, he claims that he experienced such
severe pain in his neck, shoulders, hips, lower back and all
of his joints that he simply could not keep up anymore. (Dkt.
13-2, Pg ID 71-73).
filed the instant claims on January 25, 2012 for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging that
he became disabled on September 15, 2009. (Dkt. 13-2, Pg ID
50). The claims were initially disapproved by the
Commissioner on July 9, 2012. Id. Plaintiff
requested a hearing and on September 12, 2013, plaintiff
appeared with counsel before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
Timothy C. Scallen, who considered the case de novo.
(Dkt. 13-2, Pg ID 68-97). In a decision dated October 25,
2013, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Dkt.
13-2, Pg ID 47-62). Plaintiff requested a review of that
decision on November 14, 2013. (Dkt. 13-2, Pg ID 44). The
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner when the Appeals Council, on December 29, 2014,
denied plaintiff's request for review. (Dkt. 13-2, Pg ID
39-43); Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d
541, 543-44 (6th Cir. 2004).
was 43 years old on the alleged disability onset date. (Dkt.
13-2, Pg ID 61). Plaintiff had past relevant work as a
construction worker, which involves heavy exertion.
Id. The ALJ applied the five-step disability
analysis to plaintiff's claim and found at step one that
plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the alleged onset date. Id. at 52. At step
two, the ALJ found that plaintiff's cervical spondylitis,
degenerative disc disease with pain in the neck and back with
exacerbated pain after a motor vehicle accident in April
2012, carpal tunnel syndrome with neuropathy, and bilateral
rotator cuff impingement syndrome were “severe”
within the meaning of the second sequential step.
Id. However, at step three, the ALJ found no
evidence that plaintiff's combination of impairments met
or equaled one of the listings in the regulations.
Id. at 53.
the ALJ determined the following as to plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”):
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that
the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except
lifting and carrying less than 10 pounds and lifting and
carrying between 10 pounds and 20 pounds less than
occasionally; standing, walking and sitting up to 4 hours
each in an 8 hour workday; occasional posturals (balancing,
stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling); occasional
climbing of stairs and ramps but no climbing ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds; occasional reaching, handling, and fingering;
no unprotected heights or dangerous machinery; no extreme
cold or humidity; and only simple, routine tasks.
Id. at 53. At step four, the ALJ found that
plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work, given
his RFC. Id. at 61. At step five, the ALJ denied
plaintiff benefits because he found that plaintiff could
perform a significant number of jobs available in the
national economy. Id. at 61-62.
reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion for summary
judgment is GRANTED, defendant's motion
for summary judgment is DENIED, the findings
of the Commissioner are REVERSED, and this
matter is REMANDED for further proceedings
consistent with this Opinion.
ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS
Standard of Review
Court has original jurisdiction to review the
Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Judicial review under this statute
is limited in that the court “must affirm the
Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that
the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal
standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by
substantial evidence in the record.” Longworth v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir.
2005); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d
525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). In deciding whether substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's decision, “we do not
try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or
decide questions of credibility.” Bass v.
McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007); Garner
v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984).
supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's
findings of fact are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Therefore, this Court may not reverse the Commissioner's
decision merely because it disagrees or because “there
exists in the record substantial evidence to support a
different conclusion.” McClanahan v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006); Mullen
v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (en
banc). 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.” Rogers, 486
F.3d at 241; Jones, 336 F.3d at 475. “The
substantial evidence standard presupposes that there is a
‘zone of choice' within which the Commissioner may
proceed without interference from the courts.”
Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1035 (6th Cir. 1994)
(citations omitted) (citing, Mullen, 800 F.2d at
scope of this Court's review is limited to an examination
of the record only. Bass, 499 F.3d at 512-13;
Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 357 (6th Cir. 2001).
When reviewing the Commissioner's factual findings for
substantial evidence, a reviewing court must consider the
evidence in the record as a whole, including that evidence
which might subtract from its weight. Wyatt v. Sec'y
of Health & Human Servs., 974 F.2d 680, 683 (6th
Cir. 1992). “Both the court of appeals and the district
court may look to any evidence in the record, regardless of
whether it has been cited by the Appeals Council.”
Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 535
(6th Cir. 2001). There is no requirement, however, that
either the ALJ or the reviewing court must discuss every
piece of evidence in the administrative record. Kornecky
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 167 Fed.Appx. 496, 508 (6th
Cir. 2006) (“[a]n ALJ can consider all the evidence
without directly addressing in his written decision every
piece of evidence submitted by a party.”) (internal
citation marks omitted); see also Van Der Maas v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 198 Fed.Appx. 521, 526 (6th
“[c]laimant bears the burden of proving his entitlement
to benefits.” Boyes v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 46 F.3d 510, 512 (6th Cir. 1994);
accord, Bartyzel v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 74 Fed.Appx. 515, 524 (6th Cir. 2003). There are
several benefits programs under the Act, including the
Disability Insurance Benefits Program (DIB) of Title II (42
U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq.) and the
Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) of Title XVI (42
U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq.). While
the two programs have different eligibility requirements,
“DIB and SSI are available only for those who have a
‘disability.'” Colvin v. Barnhart,
475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). “Disability”
inability to engage in any 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 ...