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. 9.)
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.
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 & Human
Servs., 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 Health &
Human Servs., 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 evidence in the
record fairly detracts from its weight. See Richardson v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 735 F.2d 962,
963 (6th Cir. 1984). 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.
the second time Plaintiff's application has reached this
level of review. Plaintiff's application for benefits was
previously considered by Magistrate Judge Hugh Brenneman, Jr.
who, in a decision dated March 19, 2014, summarized the
procedural history of this case to that point as follows:
Plaintiff was born on February 9, 1959. He alleged a
disability onset date of February 9, 2003. Plaintiff
graduated from high school, attended about two years of
college and had additional vocational training in working
with sheet metal. He had previous employment as a salesman,
floor layer and factory worker. Plaintiff identified his
disabling conditions as depression, multiple sclerosis and
restrictive breathing disease. The administrative law judge
(ALJ) reviewed plaintiff's claim de novo and
entered a written decision denying benefits on February 25,
2011. 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.
(Snowden v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No.
1:12-cv-1091 ECF No. 19, PageID.599-600) (internal citations
and footnotes omitted). Magistrate Judge Brenneman further
noted that Plaintiff had been found disabled for purposes of
a separate Title XVI application in September 2009,
approximately nine months after his date last insured.
(Id.) Judge Brenneman then proceeded to conclude
that the Commissioner's decision was not supported by
substantial evidence, remanded the case, and directed the
Commissioner to “evaluate Dr. Sullivan's January
25, 2011 report to determine if plaintiff suffered from
multiple sclerosis prior to his date last insured of December
31, 2007 and the extent of his symptoms at that time. In
addition, the Commissioner should re-evaluate the testimony
of Rev. Meredith and the vocational evidence in light of Dr.
Sullivan's opinion.” (Snowden v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., No. 1:12-cv-1091 ECF No. 19, PageID.610-611.)
31, 2014, consistent with Judge Brenneman's order, the
Appeals Council vacated the prior administrative decision and
remanded the case to ALJ Prothro for further action.
(PageID.668-670.) On October 6, 2014, Plaintiff appeared with
his counsel before ALJ Prothro for an administrative hearing
at which time Plaintiff, a medical expert, Rev. Meredith (an
acquaintance of Plaintiff), and a vocational expert (VE) all
testified. (PageID.573-630.) In a written decision, dated
October 17, 2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not
disabled. (PageID.551-572.) On October 2, 2015, the Appeals
Council declined to review the ALJ's decision, making it
the Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.543.) Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
alluded to above, Plaintiff's insured status expired on
December 31, 2007. (PageID.555.) To be eligible for DIB 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. 1990).
social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(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). The
regulations also provide that if a claimant suffers from a
nonexertional impairment as well as an exertional impairment,
both are considered in determining the claimant's
residual functional capacity (RFC). See 20 C.F.R.
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 RFC is determined.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 ...