United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
J. JONKER CHIEF 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) and supplemental security income
(SSI) under Titles II and XVI 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 forty-six years of age on the date of the ALJ's
decision. (PageID.36, 83, 99.) He has a high school
education, and was previously employed as a hand packager,
band saw operator, and as an industrial truck driver.
(PageID.61, 77.) Plaintiff applied for benefits on September
19, 2013, alleging disability beginning December 21, 2007,
due to lupus, depression, chronic migraines, chronic fatigue,
insomnia, restless legs, short term memory loss, a deaf right
ear, pain in both of his legs, bilateral carpal tunnel
syndrome, and a history of polysubstance abuse. (PageID.83,
99, 179-191.) These applications were denied on December 19,
2013, and Plaintiff subsequently requested a hearing before
an ALJ. (PageID.118-126, 130.) On January 7, 2015, Plaintiff
appeared with his counsel before ALJ James J. Kent for an
administrative hearing at which time both Plaintiff and a
vocational expert (VE) testified. (PageID.56-81.) On February
12, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable written decision that
concluded Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.36-55.) On
August 10, 2016, the Appeals Council declined to review the
ALJ's decision, making it the Commissioner's final
decision in the matter. (PageID.28-34.) Plaintiff
subsequently initiated this action under 42 U.S.C. §
insured status expired on June 30, 2010. (PageID.83, 99.) To
be eligible for DIB under Title II of the Social Security
Act, Plaintiff must establish that he became disabled prior
to the expiration of his insured status. See 42
U.S.C. § 423; Moon v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1175,
1182 (6th Cir. 1990).
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 the claimant's residual
functional capacity (RFC). See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1545, 416.945.
has the burden of proving the existence and severity of
limitations caused by his impairments and that he 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.
Kent determined Plaintiff's claim failed at step five. At
step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since his alleged disability
onset date. (PageID.41.) At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of
fibromyalgia, discoid lupus, lumbar spine facet arthropathy,
affective disorders, and substance abuse disorders.
(PageID.41.) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff's
hearing loss and headaches were non-severe impairments.
(PageID.42.) 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.42-43.)
At step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC
based on all the impairments:
to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and
416.967(c) except he can lift no more than 50 pounds
occasionally and lift/carry up to 25 pounds frequently. He
can occasionally climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds, frequently
climb ramps, stairs, and balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or
crawl. He has to avoid even moderate excessive vibration. He
is able to perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, but
he can tolerate few if any changes in the work setting and he
cannot perform production rate paced work.
(PageID.43.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his
past relevant work. (PageID.50.) 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 his limitations. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at
964. The VE testified that Plaintiff could perform work in
the following representative jobs: material handler (300, 000
national positions), equipment cleaner (150, 000 national
positions), and machine feeder (200, 000 national positions).
(PageID.77-80.) 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
December 21, 2007, the alleged disability onset date, through
February 12, 2015, the date of decision. (PageID.51.)