United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT, AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS
BERNARD A. FRIEDMAN SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is presently before the Court on cross motions for
summary judgment [docket entries 9 and 16]. Pursuant to E.D.
Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2), the Court shall decide these motions
without a hearing. For the reasons stated below, the Court
shall grant plaintiff's motion, deny defendant's
motion, and remand the case for further proceedings.
has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to
challenge defendant's final decision denying her
application for Social Security disability insurance and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits. An
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing
in May 2015 (Tr. 30-75) and issued a decision denying
benefits in July 2015 (Tr. 12-24). This became
defendant's final decision in July 2016 when the Appeals
Council denied plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-3).
§ 405(g), the issue before the Court is whether the
ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. As
the Sixth Circuit has explained, the Court
must affirm the Commissioner's findings if they are
supported by substantial evidence and the Commissioner
employed the proper legal standard. White, 572 F.3d
at 281 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)); Elam ex rel.
Golay v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th
Cir. 2003); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127
F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (internal quotation marks
omitted); see also Kyle, 609 F.3d at 854 (quoting
Lindsley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601,
604 (6th Cir. 2009)). Where the Commissioner's decision
is supported by substantial evidence, it must be upheld even
if the record might support a contrary conclusion. Smith
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 893 F.2d 106,
108 (6th Cir. 1989). However, a substantiality of evidence
evaluation does not permit a selective reading of the record.
“Substantiality of the evidence must be based upon the
record taken as a whole. Substantial evidence is not simply
some evidence, or even a great deal of evidence. Rather, the
substantiality of evidence must take into account whatever in
the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Garner
v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 388 (6th Cir. 1984) (internal
citations and quotation marks omitted).
Brooks v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 531 F.App'x
636, 640-41 (6th Cir. 2013).
time of her May 2015 hearing, plaintiff was 53 years old (Tr.
37). She has an eleventh grade education (Tr. 234) and
relevant work experience as a cashier, stock person, and
store assistant manager (Tr. 39-41, 218, 235). Plaintiff
claims she has been disabled since February 2013 (Tr. 202)
due to diabetes, depression, sleep apnea, neuropathy,
restless leg syndrome, arthritis in her knees, inability to
sit or stand for long, numbness and pain in her feet and
legs, blacking out, and difficulty with her legs (Tr. 233).
found that plaintiff's severe impairments are
“obesity, peripheral neuropathy, diabetes mellitus,
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and affective
disorder” (Tr. 14). He also found that plaintiff's
bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome is non-severe and that her
fibromyalgia and restless leg syndrome are
“non-medically determinable impairments” (Tr. 14-
15). Further, the ALJ found that plaintiff cannot perform any
of her past work (Tr. 22) but that she has the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited
range of light work. A vocational expert (“VE”)
testified initially in response to a hypothetical question
that a person of plaintiff's age, education, and work
experience, and who has this RFC, could perform certain
unskilled, light-level jobs as electrical assembler, small
parts assembler, or inspector/hand packager (Tr. 64). When
questioned further, however, the VE stated that if the
hypothetical worker needed to use an assistive device, such
as a walker, at all times while standing, then he/she would
have to do these jobs entirely while sitting (Tr. 70, 73).
Although the ALJ found that plaintiff “is limited to
performing jobs where an individual can use a handheld
assistive device at all times when standing, ” and the
VE testified that this limitation would restrict the worker
to sedentary jobs, the ALJ nonetheless concluded that
plaintiff is not disabled because she could perform the
light-level jobs identified by the VE (Tr. 23-24).
reviewed the administrative record and the parties'
briefs, the Court concludes that the ALJ's decision in
this matter is not supported by substantial evidence because
his RFC evaluation of plaintiff is flawed. Since the
hypothetical question incorporated this flawed RFC
evaluation, it failed to describe plaintiff in all relevant
respects and the VE's testimony given in response thereto
cannot be used to carry defendant's burden to prove the
existence of a significant number of jobs plaintiff is
capable of performing. The ALJ also erred in finding that
plaintiff is not disabled based on the existence of jobs
which, according to the VE, appear to exceed plaintiff's
ALJ's RFC assessment of plaintiff is flawed for the
following reasons. First, the ALJ failed to consider the side
effects of plaintiff's medications. The record indicates
that plaintiff takes, or at various times has taken, a number
of medications for pain, diabetes, depression, and other
ailments, including atorvastatin calcium, crestor,
bagapentin, glyburide, lantus injections, lyrica, metformin,
effexor, lasix, citalopram, furosemide, aspir, meloxicam,
sertraline, zoloft, venlafaxine, buspar, and buspirone (Tr.
44, 236, 273, 316, 372-73, 508, 744-47, 871, 889, 897, 910,
920). Plaintiff told one of her treating physicians, Dr.
Jawed, that one of her pain medications B of which she takes
nine pills per day (Tr. 44, 897) B makes her feel
“goofy” (Tr. 371). Plaintiff's
psychotherapist reported that plaintiff experiences
medication side effects of fatigue, lethargy, and confusion
(Tr. 586). Another treating physician, Dr. Hanna, reported
that one of plaintiff's depression medications
“caused side effects with increased fatigue and
tiredness and excessive sleep” (Tr. 895, 897).
Plaintiff testified that she “sleep[s] a lot”
clearly erred in failing to make any findings regarding
plaintiff's medication side effects. The Sixth Circuit
has held that the ALJ must evaluate A[t]he type, dosage,
effectiveness, and side effects of any medication" as
part of the process of determining the extent to which side
effects impair a claimant's capacity to work. Keeton
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 583
F.App'x 515, 532 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.929(c)(3)(i)-(vi)). Further, hypothetical
questions to vocational experts must account for medication
side effects. See White v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec, 312 F.App'x 779, 789-90 (6th Cir. 2009). On
remand, the ALJ must determine which medications plaintiff
was taking during the relevant time period; make findings as
to the nature and extent of these medications' side
effects, if any; adjust his findings as appropriate regarding
plaintiffs RFC; and incorporate these findings in proper
hypothetical questions to the VE.
the RFC evaluation in this case is flawed because the ALJ
neglected to make required findings concerning the effect, if
any, of plaintiff s obesity on her other impairments and on
her RFC. The record contains several notations that
plaintiffs body mass index (ABMI") is well over 30,
which is the point at which defendant's regulations
consider a person to be obese. See SSR 02-1p. The
ALJ must consider a disability claimant's obesity at all
steps of the sequential process. See id, Policy
Interpretation ¶ 3. Further,
[o]besity is a medically determinable impairment that is
often associated with disturbance of the musculoskeletal
system, and disturbance of this system can be a major cause
of disability in individuals with obesity. The combined
effects of obesity with musculoskeletal impairments can be
greater than the effects of each of the impairments
considered separately. Therefore, when determining whether an
individual with obesity has a listing-level impairment or
combination of impairments, and when assessing a claim at
other steps of the sequential evaluation process, including