United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
S. CARMODY, United States Magistrate Judge
an action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's
claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II
of the Social Security Act. The parties have agreed to
proceed in this Court for all further proceedings, including
an order of final judgment. (ECF No. 12.)
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.
The Commissioner has found that Plaintiff is not disabled
within the meaning of the Act.
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 evidence 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 thirty-nine years of age on the date of the
Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) decision. (PageID.90,
103.) She obtained two years of college education, and was
previously employed as a claim examiner in healthcare, as a
customer service representative in healthcare, doing work in
hospital admissions and patient registration, as a medical
secretary, and as a benefits clerk. (PageID.82-84, 227.)
Plaintiff applied for benefits on November 7, 2013, alleging
disability beginning August 1, 2013, due to pain while
sitting and standing, chronic back pain due to herniated
discs, post laminectomy syndrome, degenerative disc disease,
depression, bipolar affective disorder, arthritis, panic
attacks, diabetes, anxiety attacks, insomnia, and hepatitis.
(PageID.90-91, 198-99.) Plaintiff's application was
denied on January 21, 2014, after which time she requested a
hearing before an ALJ. (PageID.125-128, 132-133.) Shortly
thereafter, on February 24, 2014, Plaintiff amended her onset
date to June 21, 2012. (PageID.200.) On March 2, 2015,
Plaintiff appeared with her counsel before ALJ Susan Torres
for an administrative hearing with testimony being offered by
Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (PageID.65-88.) In a
written decision dated April 9, 2015, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.103-123.) On January 6,
2016, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's
decision, making it the Commissioner's final decision in
the matter. (PageID.41-44.) Plaintiff subsequently initiated
this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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.
burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely
on Plaintiff's shoulders, and she can satisfy her burden
by demonstrating that her impairments are so severe that she
is unable to perform her previous work and cannot,
considering her age, education, and work experience, perform
any other substantial gainful employment existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. See 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Cohen. 964 F.2d at 528.
While the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step
five, Plaintiff bears the burden of proof through step four
of the procedure, the point at which her RFC is determined.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987);
Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525,
528 (6th Cir. 1997) (noting that the ALJ determines RFC at
step four, at which point the claimant bears the burden of
Torres determined 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 June 21, 2012, the amended alleged onset date.
(PageID.108.) At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had
the severe impairments of lumbar disc disease status post
multiple surgeries, obesity, diabetes mellitus, affective
disorder, and anxiety disorder. (PageID.108-109.) 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 any listing in the Listing of
Impairments. (PageID.109-111.) At the fourth step, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff retained the RFC based on all the
impairments, to perform:
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) with the
following additional limitations: the claimant is limited to
no more than occasional climbing of ramps and stairs. She
must never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. The
claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold,
vibration, and hazards such as heights and moving machinery.
She can understand, remember, and carry out simple
(PageID.111.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of her past relevant
work. (PageID.117.) 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 her
limitations. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. The VE
testified that Plaintiff could perform other work as a order
clerk in food and beverage (550, 000 national positions),
telephone quotation clerk (850, 000 national positions), and
as a charge account clerk (600, 000 national positions).
(PageID.84-87.) Based on this record, the ALJ ...