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Cope v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

September 11, 2017

SAVANNA M. COPE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION

          RAY KENT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her claim for child's insurance benefits.

         Plaintiff was previously found eligible for supplemental security income (SSI) based on a disability as a child. PageID.46. The administrative law judge (ALJ) explained the posture of plaintiff's present claim which arose in 2012:

As required by law, eligibility for these disability benefits was redetermined under the rules for determining disability in adults when the claimant attained age 18, and on December 10, 2012, it was determined that the claimant was no longer disabled as of December 1, 2012. This determination was upheld upon reconsideration after a disability hearing by a state agency Disability Hearing Officer.
On December 12, 2012, an application for child's insurance benefits was protectively filed. No decision was made on this claim until it was considered in a state agency Disability Hearing Officer's decision dated April 2, 2014, at which time the claim was denied.

PageID.46. After an administrative hearing, the ALJ entered a decision in which he (1) held that plaintiff's disability ended on December 1, 2012, and (2) denied plaintiff's application for child's insurance benefits. PageID.57. This decision, which was later approved by the Appeals Council, has become the final decision of the Commissioner and is now before the Court for review.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         This court's review of the Commissioner's decision is typically focused on determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); McKnight v. Sullivan, 927 F.2d 241 (6th Cir. 1990). “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.” Cutlip v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). A determination of substantiality of the evidence must be based upon the record taken as a whole. Young v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 925 F.2d 146 (6th Cir. 1990).

         The scope of this review is limited to an examination of the record only. This Court does not review the evidence de novo, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Brainard v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989). The fact that the record also contains evidence which would have supported a different conclusion does not undermine the Commissioner's decision so long as there is substantial support for that decision in the record. Willbanks v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 847 F.2d 301, 303 (6th Cir. 1988). Even if the reviewing court would resolve the dispute differently, the Commissioner's decision must stand if it is supported by substantial evidence. Young, 925 F.2d at 147.

         A claimant must prove that he suffers from a disability in order to be entitled to benefits. A disability is established by showing that the claimant cannot engage in 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. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.905; Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990). In applying the above standard, the Commissioner has developed a five-step analysis:

The Social Security Act requires the Secretary to follow a “five-step sequential process” for claims of disability. First, plaintiff must demonstrate that she is not currently engaged in “substantial gainful activity” at the time she seeks disability benefits. Second, plaintiff must show that she suffers from a “severe impairment” in order to warrant a finding of disability. A “severe impairment” is one which “significantly limits . . . physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” Third, if plaintiff is not performing substantial gainful activity, has a severe impairment that is expected to last for at least twelve months, and the impairment meets a listed impairment, plaintiff is presumed to be disabled regardless of age, education or work experience. Fourth, if the plaintiff's impairment does not prevent her from doing her past relevant work, plaintiff is not disabled. For the fifth and final step, even if the plaintiff's impairment does prevent her from doing her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that plaintiff can perform, plaintiff is not disabled.

Heston v. Commissioner of Social Security, 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted).

         The claimant bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by her impairments and the fact that she is precluded from performing her past relevant work through step four. Jones v. Commissioner of Social Security, 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). However, at step five of the inquiry, “the burden shifts to the Commissioner 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. If it is determined that a claimant is or is not disabled at any point in the evaluation process, further review is not necessary. Mullis v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 991, 993 (6th Cir. 1988).

         “The federal court's standard of review for SSI cases mirrors the standard applied in social security disability cases.” D'Angelo v. Commissioner of Social Security, 475 F.Supp.2d 716, 719 (W.D. Mich. 2007). “The proper inquiry in an application for SSI benefits is whether the plaintiff was disabled on or after her application date.” Casey v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993).

         II. ALJ'S DECISION

         Plaintiff's claim failed at the fifth step of the evaluation. The ALJ initially found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date she turned 18 and had not attained the age of 22. PageID.49. Second, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: a learning disability in math and reading comprehension; and a mood disorder, not otherwise specified. Id. At the third step, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or ...


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