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Palmer v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 2, 2017

RHONDA M. PALMER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [14] AND DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [18].

          MONA K. MAJZOUB UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Rhonda M. Palmer seeks judicial review of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's determination that she is not entitled to social security benefits for her physical and mental impairments under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Docket no. 1.) Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 14) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 18). Plaintiff has also filed a reply brief in support of her Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket no. 19.) With consent of the Parties, this case has been referred to the undersigned for final judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. (Docket no. 16.) The Court has reviewed the pleadings, dispenses with a hearing pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f)(2), and is now ready to rule.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff protectively filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on July 7, 2014, and June 13, 2014, respectively, alleging that she has been disabled since November 22, 2009, due to bipolar disorder, anxiety, hypertension, depression, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), obesity, back problems, carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands, high blood pressure, nerve damage, arthritis throughout her entire body, and neck problems. (TR 132-33, 194-97, 218.) The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's claims on November 24, 2014, and Plaintiff requested a de novo hearing. (TR 100-33, 149.) On September 17, 2015, Plaintiff appeared with a representative and testified at the hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Kendra S. Kleber, at which she amended her alleged onset date to May 2, 2014. (TR 35-80.) In a November 10, 2015 decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits because she was capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (TR 11-28.) The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision (TR 1-6), and Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review. The parties then filed cross motions for summary judgment, which are currently before the Court.

         II. HEARING TESTIMONY AND MEDICAL EVIDENCE

         Plaintiff (docket no. 14 at 5-8), Defendant (docket no. 18 at 4-15), and the ALJ (TR 19-25, 27-28) each set out a detailed, factual recitation with regard to Plaintiff's medical record and the hearing testimony. Having conducted an independent review of Plaintiff's medical record and the hearing transcript, the undersigned finds that there are no material inconsistencies among these recitations of the record. Therefore, the undersigned will incorporate the factual recitations by reference. Additionally, the undersigned will include comments and citations to the record as necessary throughout this Opinion and Order.

         III. ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE'S DETERMINATION

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended alleged onset date of May 2, 2014, and that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease, right carpal tunnel syndrome, obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), affective disorder, and anxiety disorder. (TR 15-16.) Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (TR 16-18.) The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the following residual functional capacity (RFC):

Ms. Palmer has the residual functional capacity to perform less than light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and § 416.967(b). Specifically, at best she is able to lift or carry up to 20 pounds occasionally or 10 pounds frequently. She can stand or walk up to six hours of an eight-hour workday for 30 minutes at a time. She can sit up to six hours of an eight-hour workday for 60 minutes at a time. She can occasionally climb stairs or ramps, but not ladders or scaffolds. She can occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, crawl, or kneel. She can frequently handle or finger with her bilateral upper extremities. The work she can perform does not involve exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights or uncovered industrial machinery. She can perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks in an environment involving occasional and superficial interaction with the public, coworkers, or supervisors. The work she can perform is routine and predictable, defined as performing the same tasks in the same place, each day.

(TR 19-25.) Subsequently, in reliance on the vocational expert's (VE's) testimony, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (TR 27-28.) Therefore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act at any time from May 2, 2014, through the date of the decision. (TR 28.)

         IV. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decisions. Judicial review of the Commissioner's decisions is limited to determining whether his findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether he employed the proper legal standards. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Walters v. Comm'r, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Walters, 127 F.3d at 528. It is not the function of this Court to try cases de novo, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or decide questions of credibility. See Brainard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989); Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984).

         In determining the existence of substantial evidence, the court must examine the administrative record as a whole. See Kirk v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 536 (6th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it must be affirmed, even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently, Kinsella v. Schweiker, 708 F.2d 1058, 1059 (6th Cir. 1983), and even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. See Her v. Comm'r, 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999); Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (en banc) (noting that the substantial evidence standard “presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which the decisionmakers can go either way, without interference by the courts”).

         B. Framework for Social Security Determinations

         Plaintiff's Social Security disability determination was made in accordance with a five-step sequential analysis. In the first four steps, Plaintiff was required to show that:

(1) Plaintiff was not presently engaged in substantial gainful employment; and
(2) Plaintiff suffered from a severe impairment; and
(3) the impairment met or was medically equal to a “listed ...

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