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 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title II
of the Social Security Act. The parties subsequently 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 articulated herein,
the Commissioner's decision is vacated and this
matter remanded for further factual findings pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. Â§ 405(g).
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 42 years of age on his alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.175). He successfully completed high school and
worked previously as a tree trimmer. (PageID.46-47).
Plaintiff applied for benefits on May 20, 2013, alleging that
he had been disabled since April 13, 2013, due to incomplete
quadriplegia. (PageID.175-80, 194). Plaintiff's
application was denied, after which time he requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
(PageID.87-173). On January 22, 2015, Plaintiff appeared
before ALJ Mara-Louise Anzalone with testimony being offered
by Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (PageID.53-85). In a
written decision dated March 6, 2015, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.37-48). The Appeals
Council declined to review the ALJ's decision, rendering
it the Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.27-31). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this appeal
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review
of the ALJ's decision.
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 of the sequential evaluation process, 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 Plaintiff suffers from: (1) fractured
vertebral column with spinal cord lesion; (2) cervical
strain; (3) C6 cervical fracture; (4) gastroesophageal reflux
disease (GERD); and (5) hypertension, 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.
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) no
overhead lifting; (2) he can occasionally operate foot
controls with his right non-dominant foot; (3) he can
occasionally operate hand controls with his left dominant
hand; (4) he can never reach overhead with his left dominant
arm or otherwise reach with his left dominant arm; (5) he can
occasionally handle, finger, and feel with his left dominant
arm; (6) he can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; (7) he
can occasionally climb ladders and scaffolds; (8) he can
occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; (9) he can
occasionally be exposed to unprotected heights and moving
mechanical parts; and (10) he requires a cane to ambulate.
found that Plaintiff cannot 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, Aa
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 question ...