United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
MISTY S. DRAPER, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant,
JANET T. NEFF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision by the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(Commissioner). Plaintiff seeks review of the
Commissioner's decision denying her 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 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 thirty years of age on the date of the Administrative Law
Judge's (ALJ) decision. (PageID.33, 145.) She completed
two years of college, and was previously employed as a
cashier/stocker, deli clerk, general laborer, inspector, and
quality inspector, although the ALJ determined none of this
work amounted to past relevant work. (PageID.47, 322-323.)
Plaintiff previously applied for benefits on July 21, 2010,
alleging that she had been disabled since July 15, 2009.
(PageID.125.) On February 10, 2012, Plaintiff's
application was denied by ALJ Paul W. Jones, and on June 10,
2013, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's
decision. (PageID.122-143.) Plaintiff sought review of that
decision in federal court, but on December 18, 2013,
Plaintiff filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss her case,
which was subsequently granted. (See Draper v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 1:13-cv-862 ECF No. 13 (W.D. Mich. Dec.
instant matter, Plaintiff filed for benefits on November 19,
2013, alleging disability beginning February 11, 2012 (the
date following the day of ALJ Jones' decision) due to
chronic pain, post-surgical chronic back pain, chronic knee
and ankle pain, depression, affective disorder, and anxiety.
(PageID.145-146, 155-156, 289-298.) Plaintiff's
applications were denied on December 18, 2013, after which
time she requested a hearing before an ALJ. (PageID.168-188.)
On April 20, 2015, Plaintiff appeared with her counsel before
ALJ Thomas English for an administrative hearing with
testimony being offered by Plaintiff, a medical expert, and a
vocational expert (VE). (PageID.57-110.) In a written
decision dated May 1, 2015, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
was not disabled. (PageID.33-55.) On April 21, 2016, the
Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision,
making it the Commissioner's final decision in the
matter. (PageID.20-22.) 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.
English determined that Plaintiff's claim failed at the
fifth step of the evaluation. 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 determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments
of: (1) status-post right knee medial patellofemoral ligament
repair of the right knee; (2) chronic left lateral patellar
instability of knee status-post open reduction lower left
leg; (3) affective disorder; (4) reflex sympathetic dystrophy
syndrome; and (5) Degenerative Disk Disease. (PageID.39.) At
the third step, 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.
(PageID.39-41.) At the fourth step, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff retained the RFC based on all the impairments:
to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)
and 416.967(a) except the claimant must alternate between
sitting and standing every 30 minutes, for 30 minutes at a
time. The claimant can never use foot controls bilaterally,
climb ladders and scaffolds, kneel, crouch, or crawl;
occasionally climb ramps and stairs and stoop; and frequently
balance. The claimant can tolerate no exposure to unprotected
heights or moving mechanical parts, and must avoid
concentrated exposure to vibrations. The claimant can
understand, remember, and carryout simple, routine, and
repetitive work tasks (not at a production rate pace).
(PageID.41.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. (PageID.47.) At the
fifth step, the ALJ questioned the VE to determine whether a
significant number of jobs exist in the economy that
Plaintiff could perform given her limitations. See
Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. The VE testified that
Plaintiff could perform other work as a hand packager (20,
000 positions), materials handler (40, 000 positions), and as
an inspector (10, 000 positions). (PageID.102-106.) 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. (PageID.48.)
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled from
February 11, 2012, the alleged disability onset date, through