United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
DALE J. BRZEZINSKI, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
J. JONKER, CHIEF 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) 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.
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-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).
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).
social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(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). 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.
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.
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. (PageID.91-93.)
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.)
The ALJ's RFC Determination is Supported by Substantial
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