United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
L. MALONEY United States District Judge.
a social security action brought under 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.
Section 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.
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 fifty-four years of age as of her alleged disaiblity
onset date. (PageID.32, 100.) She obtained a high school
education, attended some college, and was previously employed
as a senior vice president of a bank and as a life insurance
agent. (PageID.53, 71.) Plaintiff applied for DIB on June 4,
2013, alleging that she had been disabled since February 11,
2012, due anxiety and depression. (PageID.100, 161-173.)
Plaintiff's application was denied on August 5, 2013,
after which time she requested a hearing before an ALJ.
Around the same time, Plaintiff filed her SSI application.
(PageID.114-117, 120, 161-173.) Plaintiff's SSI
application was elevated such that it was considered along
with her DIB application at the August 22, 2014,
administrative hearing with ALJ Thomas L. Walters.
(PageID.48-77.) In a partially favorable decision dated
October 2, 2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not
disabled prior to January 8, 2013, but became disabled on
that date and continued to be disabled through the date of
the decision. For purposes of Plaintiff's DIB
application, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not
disabled at any time through June 30, 2012, her date last
insured. (PageID.32-47.) On March 2, 2016, the
Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision,
making it the Commissioner's final decision in the
matter. (PageID.27-31.) 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.
has the burden of proving the existence and severity of
limitations caused by her impairments and that she is
precluded from performing past relevant work through step
four. Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d
469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). At step five, it is the
Commissioner's burden “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.
Walters determined that prior to January 8, 2013,
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.
(PageID.39.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
suffered from the severe impairments of: (1) anxiety; (2)
depression; (3) status post right knee arthroscopy; and (4)
transient ischemic attack (TIA). (PageID.39-40.) 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.40.) At step four,
the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC based on all
the impairments to perform:
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)
except she cannot walk beyond one to two city blocks at any
one time. The claimant can only have occasional contact with
the public; and can not work around machinery or unprotected
heights. She can only do simple, repetitive tasks with a
specific vocational preparation (SVP) rating of 1 or 2.
Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was unable to perform any of her past relevant
fifth step, the ALJ concluded that prior to January 8, 2013,
Plaintiff was an individual closely approaching advanced age
and considering her age, education, work experience, and RFC,
there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the
national economy that she could have performed. In making
this finding the ALJ relied on the testimony of the
vocational expert from the administrative hearing. See
Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. The expert testified that
Plaintiff could perform other work as a small product
assembler (223, 000 national jobs), information clerk (56,
000 national jobs), and garment sorter (223, 000 national
jobs). (PageID.72.) Based on this record, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was capable of making a successful adjustment to
work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy prior to January 8, 2013. (PageID.43.)
January 8, 2013, however, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff's age category changed to an individual of
advanced age. (PageID.42.) Therefore, the ALJ determined that
beginning on this date, considering Plaintiff's age,
education, work experience, and RFC, a finding of
“disabled” was directed by application of
Medical-Vocational Rule 202.06.
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled prior to
January 8, 2013, but became disabled on that date and
continued to be disabled through the date of decision,
October 2, 2014. (PageID.44.) Plaintiff, however, was not
under a disability at any time prior to her date last insured
of June 30, 2012. (PageID.44.)
The ALJ's RFC Determination is Supported by ...