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Yackley v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Northern Division

August 31, 2017

RALPH M. YACKLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCS. 14, 17)

          PATRICIA T. MORRIS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. OPINION

         A. Introduction and Procedural History

         This is an action for judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Ralph Yackley's claim for disability benefits under the Disability Insurance Benefits program of Title II, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. (Doc. 1). The case is before the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to the parties' consent under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), E.D. Mich. LR 72.1(b)(3), and by Notice of Reference. (Docs. 4, 13). The matter is currently before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 14, 17).

         Yackley was 58 years old when his insured status expired in December 2012. (Tr. 146). On April 2, 2014, he filed his initial application for Disability Insurance Benefits. (Tr. 131-32). After the Commissioner denied his claim, Yackley requested a hearing, (Tr. 80), which was held before Administrative Law Judge Amy L. Rosenberg, (Tr. 28), and included testimony from both Yackley, (Tr. 33), and Vocational Expert Amelia Shelton, (Tr. 50). Yackley also took the opportunity to amend his alleged onset date from January 15, 2008, to August 28, 2012. (Tr. 16, 196). Ultimately, the ALJ found that Yackley had not had a disability during the relevant time period. (Tr. 24), and the Appeals Council denied Yackley's request for review. (Tr. 1, 16-24). This action followed.

         B. Standard of Review

         The district court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The district court's review is restricted to determining whether the “Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.” Sullivan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 595 F. App'x 502, 506 (6th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal quotations omitted).

         The Court must examine the administrative record as a whole, and may consider any evidence in the record, regardless of whether it has been cited by the ALJ. See Walker v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 884 F.2d 241, 245 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court will not “try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, “it must be affirmed even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently and even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion.” Id. at 286 (internal citations omitted).

         C. Framework for Disability Determinations

         Under the Act, “DIB and SSI are available only for those who have a ‘disability.'” Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). “Disability” means the inability

to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than [twelve] months.

42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (DIB); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a) (SSI).

         The Commissioner's regulations provide that disability is to be determined through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:

(i) At the first step, we consider your work activity, if any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will find that you are not disabled. . . .
(ii) At the second step, we consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you do not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that meets the duration requirement . . . or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are not disabled. . . .
(iii) At the third step, we also consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you have an impairment(s) that meets or equals one of our listings in appendix 1 of this subpart and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are disabled. . . .
(iv) At the fourth step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your past relevant work. If you can still do your past relevant work, we will find that you are not disabled. . . .
(v) At the fifth and last step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your age, education, and work experience to see if you can make an adjustment to other work. If you can make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are not disabled. If you cannot make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are disabled.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. See also Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001). “Through step four, the claimant bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by [his or] her impairments and the fact that [he or] she is precluded from performing [his or] her past relevant work.” Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). A claimant must establish a medically determinable physical or mental impairment (expected to last at least twelve months or result in death) that rendered him unable to engage in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The burden transfers to the Commissioner if the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that the claimant is not disabled. Combs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 643 (6th Cir. 2006). At the fifth step, the Commissioner is required to show that “other jobs in significant numbers exist in the national economy that [the claimant] could perform given [his or] her RFC [residual functional capacity] and considering relevant vocational factors.” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), (g)).

         D. ALJ Findings

         Following the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ concluded that Yackley was not disabled under the Act. At Step One, the ALJ found that Yackley did not engage in substantial gainful activity between his alleged onset date of August 28, 2012, and his date last insured of December 31, 2012. (Tr. 18). At Step Two, the ALJ found that Yackley had several severe impairments: degenerative disc disease and stenosis of the lumbar spine, obesity, and osteoarthritis. (Tr. 18). The ALJ further determined, however, that none of these impairments met or medically equaled a listed impairment. (Tr. 20).

         The ALJ then found that Yackley had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work “except: he can frequently climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl, ” (Tr. 20), which left him unable to perform his past relevant work in a composite position as “stock clerk grocery” and “cashier.” (Tr. 22). Finally, at Step Five, the ALJ found that through the date last insured, “there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could have performed”-namely, laundry worker, linen room attendant, or packager. (Tr. 23).

         E. Administrative Record

         1. Medical Evidence

         The Court has thoroughly reviewed Yackley's medical record. In lieu of summarizing his medical history here, the Court will make reference and provide citations to the record as necessary in its discussion of the parties' arguments.

         2. Application Reports and Administrative Hearing

         a. Yackley's Function Report

         Yackley completed his function report on July 22, 2014. He indicated that his alleged medical conditions sometimes affected his daily life. For example, he reported some difficulty sleeping, as he was “unable to get comfortable, ” and had to “get up and sit in [a] lounge chair for a while-then back to bed.” He had “trouble with socks and shoes” and had to use the shower instead of the tub for bathing, but otherwise indicated no problems with personal care. (Tr. 172).

         He also marked that he had trouble with lifting, squatting, bending, standing, walking, sitting, kneeling, and climbing stairs. (Tr. 176). He could lift 10 to 20 pounds and walk “a very short distance, ” “100 yards” or ...


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