United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
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 forty-six years of age on the date of the Administrative
Law Judge's (ALJ) decision. (PageID.78, 154, 166.) She
previously obtained an Associate's Degree, and has worked
as a registered nurse, as a nurse supervisor, and as a
community nurse. (PageID.105, 143-144.) Plaintiff applied for
benefits on January 28, 2015, alleging disability beginning
January 9, 2014, due to bipolar disorder, depression,
borderline personality disorder, interstitial cystitis,
anxiety, and suicide attempts. (PageID.154-166, 238-250.)
Plaintiff's applications were denied on April 8, 2015,
after which time she requested a hearing before an ALJ.
(PageID.181-188, 192-193.) On September 29, 2015, Plaintiff
appeared with her counsel before ALJ Donna Grit for an
administrative hearing with testimony being offered by
Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (PageID.100-149.) In
a written decision dated October 16, 2015, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.78-98.) On May 4,
2016, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's
decision, making it the Commissioner's final decision in
the matter. (PageID.40-45.) This decision was upheld on July
29, 2016, after Plaintiff requested her case be reopened.
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.
Grit determined that Plaintiff's claim failed at the
fifth step of the evaluation. At step one, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA)
during the period between her alleged onset date through
January 21, 2015. Specifically, Plaintiff earned well over
SGA threshold amounts in each quarter of 2014 and the first
quarter of 2015. (PageID.83.) The ALJ further determined that
since January 21, 2015, Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity. (PageID.84.) At step two, the
ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of: (1)
obesity; (2) interstitial cystitis/pelvic dysfunction/stress
incontinence; (3) a bipolar disorder; and (4) a personality
disorder. (PageID.84.) 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.84-86.) At the fourth step,
the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC based on all
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except she can understand, remember, and perform
simple tasks, make simple decisions, and adapt to routine
changes in the workplace. She can have occasional interaction
with the public, coworkers, and supervisors.
(PageID.86.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of her past relevant
work. (PageID.91-92.) 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
machine tender (101, 000 positions), line attendant (125, 000
positions), and as a packager (122, 000 positions).
(PageID.144-145.) 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
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled from
January 9, 2014, the alleged disability onset date, through