Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Brzezinski v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

April 19, 2017




         This is 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) under Title II 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.


         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).

         Substantial 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.


         Plaintiff was fifty-three years of age on his date last insured, and fifty-five years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. (PageID.34, 73.) He obtained a high school education and a certificate in labor law, and was previously employed as a construction worker and as a labor union business manager. (PageID.74, 91.) Plaintiff applied for benefits on December 9, 2013, alleging that he had been disabled since January 13, 2011, due to an arrhythmia-atrial fibrillation heart condition, diabetes, sleep apnea, and a bad right knee. (PageID.97, 149-150.) Plaintiff's application was denied on February 21, 2014, after which time he requested a hearing before an ALJ. (PageID.108-113.) On February 10, 2015, Plaintiff appeared with his counsel before ALJ Thomas L. Walters with testimony offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (PageID.69-94.) In an unfavorable decision dated February 18, 2015, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.34-46.) On March 22, 2016, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it the Commissioner's final decision in the matter. (PageID.25-30.) Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Plaintiff's insured status expired on December 31, 2013. (PageID.97.) To be eligible for DIB under Title II of the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must establish that he became disabled prior to the expiration of his insured status. See 42 U.S.C. § 423; Moon v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1175, 1182 (6th Cir. 1990).


         The social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a-f).[1] 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). 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.

         Plaintiff has the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by his impairments and that he 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.

         ALJ Walters determined Plaintiff's claim failed at step four. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity between his alleged disability onset date and his date last insured. (PageID.39.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of: (1) atrial fibrillation; (2) diabetes mellitus; (3) obstructive sleep apnea; (4) hypertension; and (5) obesity. (PageID.39.) 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, through his date last insured, to perform:

sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except he can perform occasional bending, turning, crouching, and stooping. He cannot perform climbing, crawling, or kneeling. Walking is limited to less than two blocks and he cannot work around moving machinery or unprotected heights. He is likely to be on task at least 90% of the day.

(PageID.40.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work as a labor union business manager as it was generally performed within the national economy. (PageID.43.) The ALJ concluded that this work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Plaintiff's RFC. In doing so, the ALJ relied in part on the testimony from the VE at the administrative hearing.[2] (PageID.91-93.)

         Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from January 13, 2011, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2013, his date last insured. (PageID.43.)


         1. The ALJ's RFC Determination is Supported by Substantial Evidence.

         A claimant's RFC represents the “most [a claimant] can still do despite [the claimant's] limitations.” Sullivan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 595 F. App'x 502, 505 (6th Cir. 2014.); see also SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184 at *1 (July 2, 1996) (stating a claimant's RFC represents her ability to perform “work-related physical and mental activities in a work setting on a regulation and continuing basis, ” defined as “8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an equivalent work ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.