United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
L. MALONEY 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) denying Plaintiff's 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. 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-eight years of age as of her alleged disability
onset date. (PageID.100-101.) She previously obtained a GED
and has been employed as a quality monitor and as a hand
packer. (PageID.90-91, 212.) Plaintiff applied for benefits
on May 29, 2014, alleging disability beginning May 6, 2014,
due to s/p bilateral hip replacement causing pain, numbness,
and stiffness; bulging discs and mild scoliosis causing lower
back pain; shoulder arthritis causing shoulder pain and
burning; pain leading to poor sleep and poor memory; a
thyroid disorder; a learning disorder; and migraines.
(PageID.100-101, 192-195.) Plaintiff's application was
denied on November 3, 2014, after which time Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an ALJ. (PageID.116-126.) On March
11, 2015, Plaintiff appeared with her counsel before ALJ
David S. Pang for an administrative hearing at which time
both Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified.
(PageID.66-98.) On June 25, 2015, the ALJ issued his written
decision which concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.48-65.) On May 7, 2016, the Appeals Council declined
to review the ALJ's decision, making it the
Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.30-35.) 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.
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.
Pang determined Plaintiff's claim failed at the fifth
step. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged
disability onset date. (PageID.53.) At step two, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of:
(1) status post bilateral right and left hip replacement; (2)
arthritis of the left hip; (3) shoulder arthrosis; (4)
degenerative disc disease of the back; and (5) obesity.
(PageID.53-55.) At step three, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or equaled the requirements of the
Listing of Impairments found in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P,
App. 1. (PageID.55-56.) At step four, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff retained the RFC based on all the impairments to
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except the
claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, never climb
ladders, ropes and scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally
stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, balance. The claimant can never
have unprotected heights and never can operate heavy
machinery including cars. The claimant can only occasionally
reach overhead bilaterally and can only operate foot controls
(PageID.56) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of her
past relevant work. (PageID.60.) 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 work in
the following representative jobs: order clerk (5, 000
national positions), assembler (8, 000 national positions),
and telemarketer (48, 000 national positions).
(PageID.91-96.) Based on this record, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was capable of making a successful adjustment to
work that exists in significant numbers in the national
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled from May 6,
2014, the alleged disability onset date, through June 25,
2015, the date of decision. (PageID.61-62.)
ALJ Properly Evaluated the Opinion Evidence.
record contains several opinions from Dr. Thomas V. Bilisko,
M.D., Plaintiff's treating physician. (PageID.334-339,
358-359, 366-367, 378, 382.) In these records, Dr. Bilisko
recorded that Plaintiff was more limited than as the ALJ
ultimately concluded. The ALJ, however, afforded
“little weight” to Dr. Bilisko's opinions.
(PageID.59.) Plaintiff argues that she is entitled to relief
on the ground that the ALJ failed to articulate sufficient
reasons for discounting the opinion of her treating physician
and also failed to weigh the opinion pursuant to the factors
found in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c). She further argues
that after rejecting the only physical RFC opinion in the
record that was from an acceptable source, the ALJ
impermissibly relied on a single decision maker opinion. The
of background, the treating physician doctrine recognizes
that medical professionals who have a long history of caring
for a claimant and her maladies generally possess significant
insight into her medical condition. See Barker v.
Shalala, 40 F.3d 789, 794 (6th Cir. 1994). An ALJ must,
therefore, give controlling weight to the opinion of a
treating source if: (1) the opinion is “well-supported
by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques” and (2) the opinion “is not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the case
record.” Gayheart v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
710 F.3d 365, 375-76 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting 20 C.F.R.
deference is appropriate, however, only where the particular
opinion “is based upon sufficient medical data.”
Miller v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.,
1991 WL 229979 at *2 (6th Cir., Nov. 7, 1991) (citing
Shavers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.,
839 F.2d 232, 235 n.1 (6th Cir. 1987)). The ALJ may reject
the opinion of a treating physician where such is unsupported
by the medical record, merely states a conclusion, or is
contradicted by substantial medical evidence. See
Cohen, 964 F.2d at 528; Miller, 1991 WL ...