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) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of
the Social Security Act. The parties have agreed to proceed
in this Court for all further proceedings, including an order
of final judgment.
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 affirmed.
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 45 years of age on his alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.213). He possesses an eighth grade education and
previously worked as a production machine tender, press
operator, merchandise deliverer, fabricator/assembler, and
maintenance mechanic. (PageID.53, 281). Plaintiff applied for
benefits on May 28, 2013, alleging that he had been disabled
since January 22, 2013, due to bi-polar disorder, depression,
anxiety, ADHD, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, mood disorder,
insomnia, and an ulcer. (PageID.213-22, 280). Plaintiff's
application was denied, after which time he requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
December 2, 2014, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Michael
Condon with testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a
vocational expert. (PageID.61-102). In a written decision
dated February 13, 2015, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
was not disabled. (PageID.40-55). The Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's determination, rendering it
the Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.30-35). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this appeal
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review
of the ALJ's decision.
January 14, 2011, Plaintiff participated in a stress
echocardiogram examination, the results of which were
“normal” and “without evidence for
provokable myocardial ischemia.” (PageID.466-68).
December 5, 2011, Plaintiff was admitted to Forest View
Hospital after he overdosed on medication. (PageID.426).
Plaintiff reported that he was experiencing “depression
and marital conflict.” (PageID.426). Plaintiff was
treated with medication and counseling. (PageID.424-55).
Plaintiff was discharged on December 20, 2011, at which point
he was in “improved condition” and his
“moods were more stable.” (PageID.426-28).
Plaintiff was diagnosed with: (1) major depression disorder,
recurrent, in remission; (2) alcohol abuse; and (3) ADHD.
(PageID.428). Plaintiff's GAF score was rated as
(PageID.428). Plaintiff was instructed to take his medication
and participate in counseling. (PageID.428). No functional
limitations were imposed on Plaintiff that were inconsistent
with the ALJ's RFC.
September 19, 2013, Plaintiff participated in a consultive
examination conducted by Cynthia Raven, MA, LLP.
(PageID.483-87). Plaintiff reported that he watches
television, drives, shops, prepares meals, “shares the
household chores, ” and also visits with a friend 3-4
times weekly. (PageID.485). The results of a mental status
examination were unremarkable. (PageID.485-87). Plaintiff was
diagnosed with: (1) bipolar I disorder; (2) panic disorder
without agoraphobia; (3) ADHD; and (4) alcohol dependence in
sustained partial remission. (PageID.487). Plaintiff's
GAF score was rated as 54. (PageID.487).
October 21, 2013, Plaintiff participated in a consultive
examination conducted by Dr. R. Scott Lazzara.
(PageID.488-90). Plaintiff reported that he goes for walks,
drives, cleans his kitchen, and watches television.
(PageID.488). Plaintiff also reported that he can stand for 2
hours and lift 30 pounds. (PageID.488). A physical
examination revealed the following:
MUSCULOSKELETAL: There is no evidence of joint laxity,
crepitance, or effusion. Grip strength remains intact.
Dexterity is unimpaired. The patient could pick up a coin,
button clothing and open a door. The patient had no
difficulty getting on and off the examination table, no
difficulty heel and toe walking, no difficulty squatting, and
no difficulty hopping. Straight leg raising is negative.
NEURO: Cranial nerves are intact. Motor strength is normal.
Tone is normal. Sensory is intact to light touch and
pinprick. Reflexes are intact and symmetrical. The patient
walks with a normal gait without the use of an assist device.
7, 2014, Plaintiff was hospitalized after experiencing
depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts following the
death of his best friend. (PageID.492-660). The following
day, Plaintiff tested positive for cocaine and
benzodiazepine. (PageID.506). Plaintiff was treated with
medication and counseling. (PageID.492-660). Plaintiff was
discharged on June 17, 2014, at which point he was not
experiencing any suicidal thoughts and his depression and
anxiety each rated 2 on a 1-10 scale. (PageID.492, 536).
Plaintiff experienced an immediate relapse and was
hospitalized on June 21, 2014. (PageID.662). Plaintiff was
treated with medication and counseling. (PageID.662-831).
Plaintiff was discharged on June 30, 2014. (PageID.662). No
functional limitations were imposed on Plaintiff that were
inconsistent with the ALJ's RFC.
7, 2014, Plaintiff began treating with Douglass Judson, LMSW.
(PageID.891-95). Plaintiff was diagnosed with: (1) bipolar
disorder; (2) generalized anxiety disorder; and (3) alcohol
dependence. (PageID.894). Plaintiff's GAF score was rated
as 60. (PageID.894). Treatment notes dated July
21, 2014, indicate that Plaintiff's GAF score was
(PageID.910). Treatment notes dated July 28, 2014, indicate
that Plaintiff was in “good spirits.”
(PageID.955). Treatment notes dated August 4, 2014, indicate
that Plaintiff's medications were providing
“positive results.” (PageID914). Treatment notes
dated August 19, 2014, indicate that Plaintiff was making
“good progress.” (PageID.973). Plaintiff's
GAF score was rated as 62. (PageID.978). Treatment notes
dated September 15, 2014, indicate that Plaintiff was
“doing well.” (PageID.988). Plaintiff's GAF
score was rated as 62. (PageID.991).
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 Plaintiff suffered from: (1) asthma; (2)
status post-cervical fusion surgery at ¶ 5-6; (3)
fractured clavicle; (4) attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD); (5) bipolar I disorder; (6) generalized
anxiety disorder; and (7) major depressive disorder, 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 Plaintiffs residual functional capacity, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform
medium work subject to the following limitations: (1) during
an 8-hour workday, he can stand/walk and sit for six hours
each; (2) he can frequently climb, balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl; (3) he can have no contact with the
general public and only occasional contact with co-workers
and supervisors; (4) he can have only occasional exposure to
temperature extremes, humidity, fumes, odors, dusts, gases,
areas of poor ventilation, and chemicals; (5) he is limited
to simple, routine ...