United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
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 his 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 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-three years of age on the date of the
Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) decision. (PageID.44,
114.) He has completed high school and was previously
employed as a welder. (PageID.213-214.) Plaintiff applied for
benefits on May 3, 2013, alleging disability beginning March
1, 2012, due to social phobia, spinal stenosis, severe
depression, arthritis, and a hernia. (PageID.114-115,
198-204.) Plaintiff's application was denied on September
10, 2013, after which time he requested a hearing before an
ALJ. (PageID.132-135, 142-143.) On September 24, 2014,
Plaintiff appeared with his counsel before ALJ Paul W. Jones
for an administrative hearing with testimony being offered by
Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (PageID.60-105.) In a
written decision dated October 20, 2014, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.44-59.) On March 29,
2016, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's
decision, making it the Commissioner's final decision in
the matter. (PageID.38-41.) This action followed.
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.
Jones 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 his alleged disability onset date. (PageID.49.) At step
two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments
of: (1) spinal degenerative disc disease; (2) dysfunction of
the major joint, left knee; (3) affective disorder; (4)
anxiety; and (5) substance abuse (ethanol and marijuana).
(PageID.49.) 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.49-51.) At the fourth step, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff retained the RFC based on all the
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b),
except he can only stand/walk for about two hours and sit for
six hours in an eight-hour workday, with normal breaks;
requires a sit/stand option, at will, provided he is not off
task more than 10% of the work period; occasionally climb,
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; in simple, routine,
and repetitive tasks; with occasional changes in the work
setting; and occasional interaction with the public,
coworkers and supervision.
(PageID.51.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his past relevant
work. (PageID.54.) 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 his
limitations. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. The VE
testified that Plaintiff could perform other work as an
assembler (200, 000 national jobs), inspector (75, 000
national jobs), and packer (150, 000 national jobs).
(PageID.87-89.) 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 March
1, 2012, the alleged disability onset date, through October
20, 2014, the date of decision. (PageID.55-56.)
The ALJ's Evaluation of Ms. Nicole Degraff's
support of his application for benefits, Plaintiff submitted
a statement from Ms. Nicole Degraff, a certified physician
assistant. Ms. Degraff stated that Plaintiff had been:
under our care for severe lumbar radiculopathy, bilateral
knee instability, and severe depression with a history of
alcohol abuse in remission. It is unsafe to himself or others
for him to engage in work of any kind. He needs to have the
testing and see the proper specialists in order to better
treat his medical and psychiatric conditions however he is
unable to afford this. His work restrictions are indefinite.
(PageID.315.). After summarizing the note's contents, the
ALJ gave the following consideration to Ms. ...