United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
S. CARMODY United States Magistrate Judge.
an action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's
claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II
of the Social Security Act. The parties have agreed to
proceed in this Court for all further proceedings, including
an order of final judgment. (ECF No. 9). 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. For the reasons stated below, the
Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the
Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
Court's jurisdiction is confined to a review of the
Commissioner's decision and of the record made in the
administrative hearing process. See Willbanks v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 847 F.2d 301,
303 (6th Cir. 1988). The 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 and Human Services, 889 F.2d 679,
681 (6th Cir. 1989).
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).
Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than
a preponderance. See Cohen v. Sec'y of Dep't of
Health and Human Services, 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 in the record
fairly detracts from its weight. See Richardson v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 735 F.2d 962,
963 (6th Cir. 1984).
been widely recognized, 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 45 years of age on her alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.169). She successfully completed high school and
worked previously as a fast food manager. (PageID.43).
Plaintiff applied for benefits on December 5, 2013, alleging
that she had been disabled since March 1, 2013, due to
diabetes, neuropathy, arthritis, pulmonary embolus, chronic
obstructive asthma, coronary atherosclerosis, high blood
pressure, and high cholesterol. (PageID.169-70, 192).
Plaintiff's application was denied, after which time she
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
(PageID.98-163). On January 16, 2015, Plaintiff appeared
before ALJ James Prothro with testimony being offered by
Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (PageID.51-96). In a
written decision dated February 13, 2015, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.34-45). The Appeals
Council declined to review the ALJ's decision, rendering
it the Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.23-27). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review
of the ALJ's decision.
OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a-f), 416.920(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), 416.920(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 her residual functional capacity.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545, 416.945.
burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely
on Plaintiff's shoulders, and she can satisfy her burden
by demonstrating that her impairments are so severe that she
is unable to perform her previous work, and cannot,
considering her age, education, and work experience, perform
any other substantial gainful employment existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. See 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Cohen, 964 F.2d at 528.
While the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step
five of the sequential evaluation process, Plaintiff bears
the burden of proof through step four of the procedure, the
point at which her residual functioning capacity (RFC) is
determined. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146
n.5 (1987); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127
F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997) (ALJ determines RFC at step
four, at which point claimant bears the burden of proof).
determined that Plaintiff suffers from: (1) lumbar
degenerative disc disease with L4-L5 annular tear and history
of microdiscectomy at ¶ 5-S1; (2) asthma/tobacco abuse;
and (3) diabetes mellitus type II with neuropathy, severe
impairments that whether considered alone or in combination
with other impairments, failed to satisfy the requirements of
any impairment identified in the Listing of Impairments
detailed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(PageID.36-40). With respect to Plaintiff's residual
functional capacity, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained
the ability to perform light work subject to the following
limitations: (1) she can occasionally climb, balance, and
push/pull with her lower extremities; (2) she must use a cane
for walking; and (3) must avoid concentrated exposure to
fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation.
found that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant
work at which point the burden of proof shifted to the
Commissioner to establish by substantial evidence that a
significant number of jobs exist in the national economy
which Plaintiff could perform, her limitations
notwithstanding. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964.
While the ALJ is not required to question a vocational expert
on this issue, “a finding supported by substantial
evidence that a claimant has the vocational qualifications to
perform specific jobs” is needed to meet the
burden. O'Banner v. Sec'y of Health and Human
Services, 587 F.2d 321, 323 (6th Cir. 1978) (emphasis
added). This standard requires more than mere intuition or
conjecture by the ALJ that the claimant can perform specific
jobs in the national economy. See Richardson, 735
F.2d at 964. Accordingly, ALJs routinely question vocational
experts in an attempt to determine whether there exist a
significant number of jobs which a particular claimant can
perform, her limitations notwithstanding. Such was the case
here, as the ALJ questioned a vocational expert.
vocational expert testified that there existed approximately
18, 900 jobs in the state of Michigan which an individual
with Plaintiff's RFC could perform, such limitations
notwithstanding. (PageID.89-91). This represents a
significant number of jobs. See Born v. Sec'y of
Health and Human Services, 923 F.2d 1168, 1174 (6th Cir.
1990); Hall v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 272, 274 ...