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. 8). 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 46 years of age on her alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.164). She successfully completed high school and
worked previously as a secretary. (PageID.40). Plaintiff
applied for benefits on November 1, 2013, alleging that she
had been disabled since September 1, 2008, due to high blood
pressure, fibromyalgia, thyroid impairment, shoulder surgery,
arthritis, and depression. (PageID.164-70, 191).
Plaintiff's application was denied, after which time she
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
(PageID.89-162). On November 28, 2014, Plaintiff appeared
before ALJ James Prothro with testimony being offered by
Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (PageID.48-87). In a
written decision dated December 12, 2014, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.33-42). The Appeals
Council declined to review the ALJ's decision, rendering
it the Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.25-27). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review
of the ALJ's decision.
insured status expired on December 31, 2013. (PageID.35);
see also, 42 U.S.C. § 423(c)(1). Accordingly,
to be eligible for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must establish that
she became disabled prior to the expiration of her insured
status. See 42 U.S.C. § 423; Moon v.
Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1175, 1182 (6th Cir. 1990).
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) anxiety-related
disorder; (2) depression NOS; (3) lumbar degenerative disc
disease (mild); (4) myofascial back pain; (5) obesity with
history of bariatric surgery performed in 2002; (6) status
post right shoulder surgery and joint degeneration in that
region; (7) status post surgery to reduce pannus and a colon
dysfunction, 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.35-38).
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
stand/walk for two hours of an 8-hour workday; (2) she can
sit for six hours of an 8-hour workday; (3) she can
occasionally climb and balance; (4) she can frequently reach