United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT, AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS
BERNARD A. FRIEDMAN SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is presently before the Court on cross motions for
summary judgment [docket entries 13 and 14]. Pursuant to E.D.
Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2), the Court shall decide these motions
without a hearing. For the reasons stated below, the Court
shall grant plaintiff's motion, deny defendant's
motion, and remand the case for further proceedings.
has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to
challenge defendant's final decision denying his
application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) benefits. An Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing in November 2015 (Tr.
29-57) and issued a decision denying benefits in December
2015 (Tr. 13-24). This became defendant's final decision
in September 2016 when the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-3).
§ 405(g), the issue before the Court is whether the
ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. As
the Sixth Circuit has explained, the Court
must affirm the Commissioner's findings if they are
supported by substantial evidence and the Commissioner
employed the proper legal standard. White, 572 F.3d
at 281 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)); Elam ex rel.
Golay v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th
Cir. 2003); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127
F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (internal quotation marks
omitted); see also Kyle, 609 F.3d at 854 (quoting
Lindsley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601,
604 (6th Cir. 2009)). Where the Commissioner's decision
is supported by substantial evidence, it must be upheld even
if the record might support a contrary conclusion. Smith
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 893 F.2d 106,
108 (6th Cir. 1989). However, a substantiality of evidence
evaluation does not permit a selective reading of the record.
“Substantiality of the evidence must be based upon the
record taken as a whole. Substantial evidence is not simply
some evidence, or even a great deal of evidence. Rather, the
substantiality of evidence must take into account whatever in
the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Garner
v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 388 (6th Cir. 1984) (internal
citations and quotation marks omitted).
Brooks v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 531 F. App'x
636, 640-41 (6th Cir. 2013).
was 47 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision (Tr.
32). He has an eleventh grade education and work experience
as a house builder (Tr. 32, 50). Plaintiff claims he has been
disabled since October 2011 due to depression, back pain,
diabetes, high blood pressure, neuropathy, a learning
disability, a personality disorder, and anxiety attacks (Tr.
found that plaintiff's severe impairments are
“chronic back pain; borderline intellectual
functioning; anti-social personality disorder; major
depressive disorder; diabetes, alcohol, cannabis and cocaine
abuse in remission[;] and obstructive sleep apnea” (Tr.
18-19). The ALJ further found that despite these impairments
plaintiff has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform a limited range of light
work. A vocational expert (“VE”)
testified in response to a hypothetical question that a
person of plaintiff's age, education, and work
experience, and who has this RFC, could perform certain
unskilled, light-level assembly and packaging jobs (Tr.
51-52). The ALJ cited this testimony as evidence that work
exists in significant numbers that plaintiff could perform
and concluded that plaintiff is not disabled (Tr. 23-24).
reviewed the administrative record and the parties'
briefs, the Court concludes that the ALJ's decision in
this matter is not supported by substantial evidence because
his RFC evaluation of plaintiff is flawed. Since the
hypothetical question incorporated this flawed RFC
evaluation, it failed to describe plaintiff in all relevant
respects and the VE's testimony given in response thereto
cannot be used to carry defendant's burden to prove the
existence of a significant number of jobs plaintiff is
capable of performing.
ALJ's RFC assessment of plaintiff is flawed for five
reasons. First, the ALJ failed to consider the side effects
of plaintiff's medications. Plaintiff testified that his
pain medications made him drowsy (Tr. 33-34, 45) and that he
feels “sluggish and weak” from his diabetes or
his diabetes medications (Tr. 46). Plaintiff indicated that
he naps for several hours during the day because he sleeps
poorly at night and “my medications . . . makes me
drowsy” (Tr. 45). Plaintiff also testified that for
some period of time he was taking Sinequan, which gave him
nightmares (Tr. 36). The record indicates that he has been
prescribed a large number of medications, including Benadryl,
Cymbalta, Elavil, Gabapentin, Hydrocodone, Lantus Solostar,
Losartan potassium, Novolog, Pravastatin, Abilify,
Duloxetine, Hydrochlorothiazide, Omeprazole, Amlodipine,
Tramadol, Sinequan, Advair, Tudorza, Amitriptyline,
Risperdal, Glucophage, Neurontin, Prilosec, Seroquel,
Simvastatin, Docusate, Insulin, Senna, Flonase, Albuterol,
Prilosec, Doxepin, Trazodone, and Norco (Tr. 221, 253, 279,
281, 471-72, 476-77, 479-80, 482-83, 485-86, 498-99, 522-23,
569-70, 583-85, 595-96, 616-17, 678-80, 731, 752, 768, 771,
787-88, 812, 816-18, 821, 835-36, 849-50, 859-61, 886-87,
905-06, 921-22, 942, 965), many of which have known side
clearly erred in failing to make any findings regarding this
issue. The Sixth Circuit has held that the ALJ must evaluate
“[t]he type, dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of
any medication” as part of the process of determining
the extent to which side effects impair a claimant's
capacity to work. Keeton v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
583 F. App'x 515, 532 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.929(c)(3)(i)-(vi)). Further, hypothetical
questions to vocational experts must account for medication
side effects. See White v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
312 F. App'x 779, 789-90 (6th Cir. 2009). On remand, the
ALJ must determine which medications plaintiff was taking
during the relevant time period; make findings as to the
nature and extent of these medications' side effects, if
any; adjust his findings as appropriate regarding
plaintiff's RFC; and incorporate these findings in proper
hypothetical questions to the VE.
the RFC evaluation is flawed, and remand is required, because
the ALJ neglected to make required findings concerning the
effect, if any, of plaintiff's obesity on his other
impairments. Plaintiff testified that he is
5'-7-1/2" tall and weighs 227 pounds (Tr. 40), which
yields a body-mass index (“BMI”) of
bmicalc.htm. A medical record from May 2015
indicates plaintiff is 5'-8" tall and weighed 220
pounds, yielding a body-mass index (“BMI”) of
33.46 (Tr. 1011). Medical reports in August 2015 and October
2015 indicate a BMI of 36.2 and 34, respectively (Tr. 770,
782). Under SSR 02-1p, an adult with a BMI of 30 or above is
deemed to be obese, and an ALJ must consider a disability
claimant's obesity at all steps of the sequential
[o]besity is a medically determinable impairment that is
often associated with disturbance of the musculoskeletal
system, and disturbance of this system can be a major cause
of disability in individuals with obesity. The combined
effects of obesity with musculoskeletal impairments can be
greater than the effects of each of the impairments
considered separately. Therefore, when determining whether an
individual with obesity has a listing-level impairment or
combination of impairments, and when assessing a claim at
other steps of the sequential evaluation process, including