United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
DENISE K. HOUTTEKIER, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
M. Lawson, Judge
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT [16, 19]
R. GRAND United States Magistrate Judge
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).
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  be DENIED, Houttekier's Motion for Summary
Judgment  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.
March 19, 2014, Houttekier filed an application for SSI,
alleging a disability onset date of December 1,
2011. (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).
Framework for Disability Determinations
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
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
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
Houttekier's Reports and Testimony
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).
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. (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