United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Northern Division
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S OPINION AND ORDER ON CROSS
MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Docs. 20, 24)
PATRICIA T. MORRIS MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Introduction and Procedural History
an action for judicial review of a final decision by the
Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner")
denying Plaintiff Kelly Carter's claim for disability
benefits under the Disability Insurance Benefits
("DIB") program of Title II, 42 U.S.C. § 401
et seq, and Supplemental Security Income
("SSI") under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1381
et seq. (Doc. 1; Tr. 1-3). The case is before the
undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to the parties'
consent under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), E.D. Mich. LR
72.1(b)(3), and by Notice of Reference. (Docs. 4, 10, 12).
The matter is currently before the Court on cross-motions for
summary judgment. (Docs. 20, 24).
was thirty-six years old as of July 20, 2015, the date of the
ALJ's decision. (Tr. 20, 170). Her applications for
benefits were initially denied on May 6, 2014. (Tr. 94-95).
Carter requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ"), which took place before ALJ Patrick J.
MacLean on May 15, 2015. (Tr. 25-65). Carter, represented by
attorney Samantha Ball, testified, as did vocational expert
("VE") Pauline McEachin. (Id.). On July
20, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision in which he found
Carter not disabled. (Tr. 9-20). On July 5, 2016, the Appeals
Council denied review. (Tr. 1-4). Carter filed for judicial
review of that final decision on September 6, 2016. (Doc. 1).
Standard of Review
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 citations 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 quotations omitted).
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.
Secretary of Health and Human Services, 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
Framework for Disability Determinations
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
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)).
the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ found Carter not
disabled under the Act. (Tr. 20). The ALJ found at Step One
that Carter had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
following the alleged onset date, May 1, 2013. (Tr. 11). At
Step Two, the ALJ concluded that Carter had the following
severe impairments: "status/post excision of melanomas
from back; degenerative changes of the lumbar spine; facet
arthritis T10-T11; myelopathy of lumbar spine; fibromyalgia;
obesity; and depression." (Tr. 11-12). At Step Three,
the ALJ found that Carter's combination of impairments
did not meet or equal one of the listed impairments. (Tr.
12-13). The ALJ then found that Carter had the residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary
work, with additional limitations as follows:
[C]an never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds but can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, crouch,
kneel, and crawl. The claimant must avoid concentrated
exposure to moving machinery and unprotected heights. The
claimant can perform work that is limited to simple routine
and repetitive tasks.
(Tr. 13-19). At Step Four, the ALJ found that Carter was
unable to return to her past relevant work. (Tr. 19). At Step
Five, the ALJ found that Carter could still perform jobs
which exist in significant numbers in the national economy,
and was thus not disabled. (Tr. 19-20).
Court has thoroughly reviewed Carter'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.
Application Reports and Administrative Hearing
Carter's Function Report
completed a function report on March 20, 2014. (Tr. 249-56).
She wrote that she was in pain "every day, " had
stiff joints, numbness in her extremities, increased pain
with activity, and pain-induced migraines. (Tr. 249).
Following a "full day of activity, " she found
herself bedridden for two to three days, and required
"help to get around." (Id.). She rose each
morning around five to assist her sons in getting to school.
(Tr. 250). When possible, she would prepare dinner and clean
up the house, but "lately [she was] in bed alot [sic]
due to fatigue." (Id.). She assisted her sons
to complete their homework. (Id.). She ensured that
her sons were properly clothed and had something to eat.
(Id.). Carter owned a dog, but her care for the pet
was limited to letting the dog outside. (Id.). She
sometimes relied on a close friend for assistance when she
was unable to walk. (Id.).
sleep was interrupted by crying due to pain which radiated
from her hips down through her feet. (Tr. 250). In terms of
personal care, Carter wrote that she has difficulty bending
to put on clothing, getting in and out of the shower, did not
style her hair due to difficulty holding a hair drier, had
trouble stooping to shave, required help cooking on occasion,
had trouble getting of the toilet, had trouble going down
stairs, and had difficulty carrying laundry. (Id.).
suffering from migraines, Carter relied on her friend to
provide migraine medicine; her migraines were so severe that
she was reluctant to move. (Tr. 251). She cooked two or three
days every week. (Id.). She washed laundry and
dishes, but did "a little bit at a time;" she did
not perform any outdoor chores. (Id.). She had
trouble vacuuming and cleaning floors. (Id.).
Performing indoor chores like laundry and washing dishes took
"all day." (Id.). She had trouble
finishing tasks, and could not "carry anything over 10
lbs." (Id.). Following two hours of cleaning
house, Carter would be bedridden for two to three days. (Tr.
went outside only rarely because "it is cold, "
thus her excursions were limited to visiting doctors and
shopping in stores. (Tr. 252). Carter asserted that she was
"told by two doctors not to drive, " because of
numbness in her feet. (Id.). She shopped in stores
weekly for food or other necessities; these trips took
"all day." (Id.). She had no difficulty
handling money. (Id.).
asserted that her hobbies included eating lunch with a friend
once every few months, and watching television when not
suffering from a headache. (Tr. 253). She also complained
that she could not sit still for more than thirty-five
minutes. (Id.). She found it difficult to enjoy
herself "much anymore." (Id.). She spent
time with her children and her friend once or twice weekly,
talking or watching movies. (Tr. 253). Once per week she rode
a motorized scooter to "just look around, "
apparently outdoors. (Id.). Carter's
relationship with her mother was strained due to her failure
to pay back borrowed funds. (Tr. 254).
checked boxes indicating that she had difficulty performing
all exertional and postural activities, and also had
difficulty completing tasks, remembering things,
concentrating, understanding, and getting along with others.
(Tr. 254). She wrote that she could not lift more than ten
pounds, and "even that is too much at times."
(Id.). She was unable to squat; this prevented her
from picking up dropped objects or using a public restroom.
(Id.). She was unable to "stand long"
because of foot numbness; she also experienced back pain and
dizziness. (Id.). Carter could walk "not long,
" had trouble sitting for long periods because of
tailbone numbness, and was unable to rise from a kneeling
position. (Id.). She also found it difficult to
climb stairs. (Id.). She could walk one block at a
slow pace, and could continue walking after a ten minute
rest. (Id.). She could pay attention for thirty
attempting to follow written instructions, she had to
"read it over and over." (Tr. 254). As to spoken
instructions, she often required repetition "depending
on what it is." (Id.). Carter got along with
authority figures without issue, handled stress and changes
in routine "OK, " but got "nervous and
jump[ed] at little things." (Tr. 255). She walked with a
cane when she "feels really ran [sic] down and [her]
feet are numb and joints hurt." (Id.). She took
a variety of medications which caused lightheadedness,
nausea, constipation, drowsiness, and vomiting. (Tr. 256).
She had difficulty concentrating, felt frustration which
impeded her ability to complete tasks, and sometimes cause
frustration in others because she was no longer able to live
a full life. (Id.).
Third-Party Function Report
friend and housemate Morgan Wrobel completed a thirty-party
function report on March 20, 2014, which generally confirmed
Carter's own report. (Tr. 241-48). More particularly, he
wrote that Carter was bedridden "a few days a week"
due to extreme pain which prevented her from sitting or
standing. (Tr. 241). Even light housework caused pain. (Tr.
242). He helped Carter in taking care of her children,
performing housework, and preparing meals. (Id.).
When she was in too much pain to complete chores around the
house, Wrobel or Carter's children would take over. (Tr.
243). Wrobel asserted that when Carter shopped in stores, she
made use of an electric scooter. (Id.).
Carter's Testimony at the ...