United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
DOREEN A. LYMAN, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant,
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) 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 fifty-seven years of age as of her alleged disability
onset date. (PageID.77.) She obtained a high school education
and previously worked as a secretary. (PageID.70-71, 163.)
Plaintiff applied for benefits on October 14, 2013, alleging
disability beginning September 3, 2013, due to
spondylolisthesis, osteoarthritis, osteopenia, and chronic
pain. (PageID.77, 144-145.) Plaintiff's application was
denied on January 10, 2014, after which time Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an ALJ. (PageID.89-93.) On
February 4, 2015, Plaintiff appeared with her counsel before
ALJ James J. Kent for an administrative hearing with
testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert
(VE). (PageID.51-75.) In a written decision dated March 16,
2015, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.36-50.) On December 7, 2015, the Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's decision, making the
ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision in
the matter. (PageID.27-32.) 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 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.
Kent determined that Plaintiff's claim failed at the
fourth step of the evaluation. At step one, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since her alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.41.) At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had
the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease and
osteoarthritis. (PageID.41.) 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.42.) At the fourth step, the
ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC based on all the
to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)
except she can lift up to 10 pounds occasionally and she can
stand and walk for up to two hours and sit for up to six
hours in an eight hour workday. She requires a sit stand
option alternatively at will provided she is not off task
more than 10% of the workday. She can only occasionally climb
ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps and stairs. She is able to
feel frequently bilaterally.
(PageID.43.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant
work as a secretary. The ALJ determined that this work did
not require the performance of work-related activities that
were precluded by Plaintiff's RFC. (PageID.46.) Having
made his determination at step four, the ALJ completed the
analysis and entered a finding that Plaintiff had not been
under a ...