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Bickham v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 15, 2017



          Patricia T. Morris United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. OPINION

         A. Introduction and Procedural History

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), E.D. Mich. LR 72.1(b)(3), and by Notice of Reference, this case was referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for the purpose of reviewing a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff Patrice L. Bickham's (“Bickham”) claim for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., and Supplemental Security Income Benefits (“SSI”) under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. (Doc. 3). The matter is currently before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 14, 19).

         On October 9, 2013, Bickham filed concurrent applications for DIB and SSI, alleging a disability onset date of May 7, 2012. (Tr. 182-91). The Commissioner denied her claims. (Tr. 89-110). Bickham then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which occurred on June 25, 2015, before ALJ Stephen Marchioro. (Tr. 29-88). At the hearing, Bickham-represented by her attorney-testified, alongside Vocational Expert (“VE”) Paul Delmar. (Id.). The ALJ's written decision, issued September 18, 2015, found Bickham not disabled. (Tr. 12-23). On August 9, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review, (Tr. 1-6), and Bickham filed for judicial review of that final decision on September 13, 2016. (Doc. 1).

         B. Standard of Review

         The 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 quotation marks 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 quotation marks omitted).

         The 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. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 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 omitted).

         C. Framework for Disability Determinations

         Under 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 analysis.
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 analysis.
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)).

         Under the authority of the Social Security Act, the SSA has promulgated regulations that provide for the payment of disabled child's insurance benefits if the claimant is at least eighteen years old and has a disability that began before age twenty-two (20 C.F.R. 404.350(a) (5) (2013). A claimant must establish a medically determinable physical or mental impairment (expected to last at least twelve months or result in death) that rendered her unable to engage in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation for evaluating disability claims. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

         D. ALJ Findings

         Following the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ found Bickham not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 12-23). At Step One, the ALJ found that Bickham last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity in the interval between her alleged onset date of May 7, 2012 through her date last insured (“DLI”) of December 31, 2017. (Tr. 14). At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that the following impairments qualified as severe: epilepsy, status-post repair of a ruptured posterior tibial tendon of the left ankle, and osteoarthritis. (Tr. 15). The ALJ also decided, however, that none of these met or medically equaled a listed impairment at Step Three. (Tr. 15-16). Thereafter, the ALJ found that Bickham had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with the following additional limitations:

[S]he must be able to alternate between sitting and standing while remaining at her workstation. She can stand for thirty minutes, sit for 120 minutes, and walk for ten minutes at a time. The claimant can occasionally push or pull with her bilateral upper extremities. She can occasionally operate foot controls with her left lower extremity. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch. She can never crawl. The claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally reach overhead bilaterally. She must avoid all excessive vibration and unprotected heights. She must avoid all use of moving mechanical parts and can never operate a commercial vehicle.

         (Tr. 16). At Step Four, the ALJ noted Bickham's past relevant work as a fast-food worker and manager, but noted that the VE “did not testify as to whether the claimant could perform her past relevant work, ” and that such information was “not material because all potentially applicable Medical-Vocational Guidelines would direct a finding of ‘not disabled' given the individual's age, education, past relevant work, and residual functional capacity.” (Tr. 21-22). Proceeding to Step Five, the ALJ determined that “there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could have performed.” (Tr. 22-23).

         E. Administrative Record

         1. Medical Evidence

         The Court has reviewed Bickham'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.

         2. Application Reports and ...

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