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. 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
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). 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 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). As has 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 49 years of age on his alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.164). He successfully completed high school and
previously worked as a carpet cleaner, manager, programmer,
and manufacturing representative. (PageID.47-48). Plaintiff
applied for benefits on June 19, 2014, alleging that he had
been disabled since July 13, 2012, due to degenerative disc
disease, drop foot, arthritis, pinched nerve, depression,
stomach ulcers, headaches, numbness in his extremities, and
reflex impairment. (PageID.164-65, 186). Plaintiff's
application was denied, after which time he requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
August 13, 2015, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Donna Grit
with testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a vocational
expert. (PageID.55-99). In a written decision dated September
14, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff
was not disabled. (PageID.40-49). The Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's determination, rendering it
the Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.21-25). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this appeal
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review
of the ALJ's decision.
insured status expired on March 31, 2013. (PageID.42).
Accordingly, to be eligible for Disability Insurance Benefits
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.
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 his 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 he can satisfy his burden
by demonstrating that his impairments are so severe that he
is unable to perform his previous work, and cannot,
considering his 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, Plaintiff bears the burden of proof through step four
of the procedure, the point at which his 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 as of the date Plaintiff's insured status
expired, Plaintiff suffered from: (1) hypertension and (2)
cervical and lumbar degenerative changes, 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.42-44). With respect to Plaintiff's residual
functional capacity, the ALJ determined that as of the date
Plaintiff's insured status expired Plaintiff retained the
capacity to perform light work subject to the following
limitations: (1) he cannot climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; (2) he can frequently stoop, crouch, balance,
kneel, and crawl; and (3) he can frequently perform handling
and fingering activities. (PageID.44).
found that through the date Plaintiff was last insured he was
unable to perform his 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, his
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