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Houttekier v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 12, 2017

DENISE K. HOUTTEKIER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          David M. Lawson, Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [16, 19]

          DAVID R. GRAND United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Denise K. Houttekier (“Houttekier”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), challenging the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). Both parties have filed summary judgment motions [16, 19], which have been referred to this Court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) conclusion that Houttekier is not disabled under the Act is not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court recommends that the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [19] be DENIED, Houttekier's Motion for Summary Judgment [16] be GRANTED IN PART to the extent it seeks remand and DENIED IN PART to the extent it seeks an award of benefits, and that, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this case be REMANDED to the ALJ for further proceedings consistent with this Recommendation.

         II. REPORT

         A. Procedural History

         On March 19, 2014, Houttekier filed an application for SSI, alleging a disability onset date of December 1, 2011.[1] (Tr. 183-89). This application was denied initially on June 16, 2014. (Tr. 127-30). Houttekier filed a timely request for an administrative hearing, which was held on July 23, 2015, before ALJ Paul Sher. (Tr. 69-115). Houttekier, who was represented by non-attorney representative Dannelly Smith, testified at the hearing, as did vocational expert Amy Kutschbach. (Id.). On September 8, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Houttekier is not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 54-63). On July 12, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review. (Tr. 1-6). Houttekier timely filed for judicial review of the final decision on September 7, 2016. (Doc. #1).

         B. Framework for Disability Determinations

         Under the Act, SSI is available only for those who have a “disability.” See Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). The Act defines “disability” as 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 12 months.

42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner's regulations provide that a 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 analysis.
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 the claimant can perform, in view of his or her age, education, and work experience, benefits are denied.

Scheuneman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2011 WL 6937331, at *7 (E.D. Mich. Dec. 6, 2011) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520); see also Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001). “The burden of proof is on the claimant throughout the first four steps …. If the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that claimant is not disabled, the burden transfers to the [defendant].” Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).

         C. Background

         1. Houttekier's Reports and Testimony

         At the time of the administrative hearing, Houttekier was 49 years old, and at 5'7” tall, weighed approximately 240 pounds. (Tr. 75, 217). She was divorced and lived in a house with her boyfriend and the youngest of her three children. (Tr. 75-76, 80). She completed high school but had no further education. (Tr. 77, 218). Houttekier testified that she worked at the Salvation Army “for a couple months” in early 2014; aside from that, however, she has very little work history after high school, as she was a stay-at-home mother. (Tr. 78-80).

         Houttekier alleges disability primarily as a result of left knee pain, pain in both feet, and poor circulation in the toes on her left foot. (Tr. 82, 217). She has had multiple surgeries on her left knee - most recently in May of 2013.[2] (Tr. 83-84). She has difficulty sitting or standing for long periods of time and has to sit down on the couch and elevate her leg above waist-level “[e]veryday, all day” because her knee hurts so much. (Tr. 83-85). She takes Norco every six hours ...


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