United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Northern Division
OPINION AND ORDER ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT (DOCS. 16, 19)
Patricia T. Morris United States Magistrate
Introduction and Procedural History
an action for judicial review of a final decision by the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”)
denying Plaintiff Julie Greene-Howard's claim for
disability benefits under the Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) program of Title II, 42 U.S.C. § 401
et seq, and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1381
et seq. (Doc. 1; Tr. 1-3). The case is before the
undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to the parties'
consent under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), E.D. Mich. LR
72.1(b)(3), and by Notice of Reference. (Docs. 3, 13, 15).
The matter is currently before the Court on cross-motions for
summary judgment. (Docs. 16, 19).
was fifty-two years old as of February 13, 2015, the date of
the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 22, 145). Her applications for
benefits were initially denied on April 17, 2013. (Tr.
81-82). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which took
place before ALJ Lisa Leslie on January 27, 2015. (Tr.
27-68). Plaintiff, represented by attorney Ms. Ilanski,
testified, as did vocational expert (“VE”) Ms.
McFarland. (Id.). On February 13, 2015, the ALJ
issued a written decision in which she found Plaintiff not
disabled. (Tr. 10-22). On May 4, 2015, the Appeals Council
denied review. (Tr. 1-4). Plaintiff filed for judicial review
of that final decision on July 14, 2016. (Doc. 1).
Standard of Review
district court has jurisdiction to review the
Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The district court's review is
restricted solely to determining whether the
“Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal
standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by
substantial evidence in the record.” Sullivan v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 595 F. App'x 502, 506 (6th
Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted). Substantial evidence
is “more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a
preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241
(6th Cir. 2007) (internal quotations omitted).
Court must examine the administrative record as a whole, and
may consider any evidence in the record, regardless of
whether it has been cited by the ALJ. See Walker v.
Secretary of Health and Human Services, 884 F.2d 241,
245 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court will not “try the case
de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide
questions of credibility.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir.
1994). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence, “it must be affirmed even if the
reviewing court would decide the matter differently and even
if substantial evidence also supports the opposite
conclusion.” Id. at 286 (internal citations
Framework for Disability Determinations
the Act, “DIB and SSI are available only for those who
have a ‘disability.'” Colvin v.
Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007).
“Disability” means the inability
to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of
any medically determinable physical or mental impairment
which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted
or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not
less than [twelve] months.
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (DIB); 20
C.F.R. § 416.905(a) (SSI). The Commissioner's
regulations provide that disability is to be determined
through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:
Step One: If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity, benefits are denied without further
Step Two: If the claimant does not have a severe impairment
or combination of impairments that “significantly
limits . . . physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities, ” benefits are denied without further
Step Three: If the claimant is not performing substantial
gainful activity, has a severe impairment that is expected to
last for at least twelve months, and the severe impairment
meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the
regulations, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be
disabled regardless of age, education or work experience.
Step Four: If the claimant is able to perform his or her past
relevant work, benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Five: Even if the claimant is unable to perform his or
her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national
economy that plaintiff can perform, in view of his or her
age, education, and work experience, benefits are denied.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. See also Heston
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir.
2001). “Through step four, the claimant bears the
burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations
caused by [his or] her impairments and the fact that she is
precluded from performing [his or] her past relevant
work.” Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336
F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). The burden transfers to the
Commissioner if the analysis reaches the fifth step without a
finding that the claimant is not disabled. Combs v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 643 (6th Cir.
2006). At the fifth step, the Commissioner is required to
show that “other jobs in significant numbers exist in
the national economy that [the claimant] could perform given
[his or] her RFC [residual functional capacity] and
considering relevant vocational factors.”
Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), (g)).
the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ found Plaintiff
not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 22). The ALJ found at Step
One that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity following the alleged onset date, March 30, 2010.
(Tr. 12). At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had
the following severe impairments: “status post
amputation of four fingers, asthma/chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (COPD), depression, anxiety, and alcohol
abuse.” (Tr. 12-14). At Step Three, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff's combination of impairments did not meet or
equal one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 14-15). The ALJ
then found that Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, with
additional limitations as follows:
No fine manipulation with the left hand; no concentrated
exposure to extreme heat, cold, humidity, fumes, odors, dust
or other pulmonary irritants; she is limited to simple,
routine, repetitive tasks.
15-19). At Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable
to return to her past relevant work. (Tr. 20). At Step Five,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff could still perform jobs which
exist in significant numbers in the national economy, and was
thus not disabled. (Tr. 20-22).
Court has thoroughly reviewed Plaintiff's medical record.
In lieu of summarizing her medical history here, the Court
will make references and provide citations to the record as
necessary in its discussion of the parties' arguments.
Application Reports and Administrative Hearing
Plaintiff's Function Report
completed a function report on April 4, 2014, wherein she
wrote that she was disabled by depression, colitis,
amputation of fingers on her left hand, carpal tunnel
syndrome, and back pain. (Tr. 213). She wrote that depression
interfered with her sleep, eating, and communication with
others. (Id.). Her colitis prevented her from
“leav[ing] the bathroom for hours” and caused
vomiting. (Id.). Amputation of fingers on her left
hand caused carpal tunnel syndrome on her right.
(Id.). Cervical fusion caused back pain which
prevented her from completing “almost any kind of
physical labor.” (Id.). Plaintiff's daily
activities were composed solely of watching television and
eating. (Tr. 214). Her hobbies included watching television
and reading books; she described the frequency with which she
performed these activities by exclaiming “it's all
I do!!!!” (Tr. 215). Plaintiff sometimes experienced
insomnia followed by periods of sleeping for a full
twenty-four hours. (Tr. 214). She was sometimes “too
depressed” to perform personal care activities like
dressing, bathing, caring for hair, shaving, and feeding
used lists and reminders from friends to ensure she performed
personal care and took medication on time. (Tr. 215). She
prepared her own food, consisting of yogurt and canned food.
(Id.). She also washed laundry and dishes.
(Id.). Plaintiff rarely went outside due to social
anxiety. (Tr. 216). She could not go outside alone due to
anxiety, and chose not to drive vehicles. (Id.).
However, she shopped in stores for food “very
infrequently.” (Id.). She did not spend time
with others. (Tr. 217). However, Plaintiff also wrote that
she had no difficulty getting along with others. (Tr. 218).
checked boxes indicating that she was limited in terms of
lifting, squatting, bending, sitting, kneeling, stair
climbing, memory, completing tasks, concentration, using
hands, and getting along with others. (Tr. 218). She wrote
that her back pain prevented her from “physical
movement” and her depression caused her to lack
“any desire or energy.” (Id.). She was
unable to estimate her ability to walk, writing
“depends (asthma).” (Id.). She was
likewise unable to estimate her ability to pay attention,
writing “varies.” (Id.). She did not
finish what she started, but could follow written or oral
instructions “pretty well.” (Id.). ...