United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
T. NEFF 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). Plaintiff seeks review of the
Commissioner's decision denying his 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.
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 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 fifty-one years of age on the date of the ALJ's
decision. (PageID.73, 86, 101.) He obtained a GED, and was
previously employed as an industrial truck driver, concrete
quality controller, window installer, and concrete foreman.
(PageID.44, 63-64.) Plaintiff applied for benefits on
September 25, 2013, alleging disability beginning June 1,
2009, due to degenerated discs in the cervical region,
chronic pain, damage to left ulnar nerve, degenerative disc
disease, chronic migraines, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
(PageID.73-74, 86-87, 205-235.) Plaintiff's applications
were denied on March 5, 2014, and Plaintiff subsequently
requested a hearing before an ALJ. (PageID.128-152.) On
February 5, 2015, Plaintiff appeared with his counsel before
ALJ Christopher L. Dillon for an administrative hearing at
which time Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) both
testified. (PageID.38-71.) On May 20, 2015, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable written decision that concluded Plaintiff was not
disabled. (PageID.101-124.) On June 14, 2016, the Appeals
Council declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it
the Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.23-28.) Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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.
Dillon determined that Plaintiff's claim failed at the
fifth step of the evaluation. At step one, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity
since June 1, 2009, the alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.106-107.) At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
had the severe impairments of: (1) cervical and lumbar spine
disorder; (2) residuals of right shoulder disorder; (3)
carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS); (4) bilateral knee disorder;
(5) obesity; (6) affective disorder; and (7) an
anxiety-related disorder. (PageID.107-108.) At the third
step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that met or equaled the
requirements of the Listing of Impairments. (PageID.108-111.)
At the fourth step, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the
RFC based on all the impairments:
for work that involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a
time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighting
up to 10 pounds; pushing or pulling similar amounts; standing
and/or walking for a total of no more than 2 hours per work
day; sitting for a total of 6 hours; no climbing of
ropes/ladders/scaffolding; no more than occasional ability to
perform all other postural activity; no foot pedal operation;
no more than frequent reaching with the dominant right upper
extremity, but no reaching above shoulder level with either
upper extremity; no more than frequent handling and
fingering; no more than frequent interaction with
supervisors, coworkers, and the public; and no more than
simple, routine, repetitive tasks.
(PageID.111.) Continuing with the fourth step, the ALJ made
no finding regarding Plaintiff's past relevant work.
(PageID.117.) Accordingly the ALJ proceeded to the fifth step
and 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
other light, unskilled, work as a final inspector (450, 000
national positions), final assembler (395, 000 national
positions) and as a sorter (400, 000 national positions).
(PageID.65-67.) 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 June
1, 2009, the alleged disability onset date, through May 20,