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. 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 stated below, the Court concludes that the
Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence. Accordingly, the Commissioner's decision is
vacated and this matter remanded for further factual
findings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
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 50 years of age on her alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.429). She successfully completed high school and
worked previously as a parking lot attendant, assembler, and
furniture panel coverer. (PageID.285, 305). Plaintiff
initially applied for benefits on September 18, 2009,
alleging that she had been disabled since May 27, 2009.
(PageID.315). Plaintiff's applications were denied, after
which time she requested a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ). (PageID.315). On September 19, 2011,
Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Donna Grit with testimony being
offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert.
(PageID.315-25). In a written decision dated October 18,
2011, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
16, 2013, Plaintiff again applied for disability benefits
alleging that she had been disabled since June 12, 2013.
(PageID.429-37, 489). Plaintiff's applications were again
denied, after which time she requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (PageID.312-425). On November
21, 2014, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Carol Guyton with
testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert.
(PageID.276-310). In a written decision dated December 22,
2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.258-70). The Appeals Council declined to review the
ALJ's decision, rendering it the Commissioner's final
decision in the matter. (PageID.59-64). Plaintiff
subsequently initiated this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of the ALJ's
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 her 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 she can satisfy her burden
by demonstrating that her impairments are so severe that she
is unable to perform her previous work, and cannot,
considering her 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 her 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).
found that Plaintiff suffers from: (1) diabetes mellitus; (2)
essential hypertension; (3) obesity; (4) mild peripheral
vascular insufficiency; (5) major depression; (6) substance
addiction disorder; and (7) history of degenerative disc
disease of the cervical and lumbar spine (status-post
cervical fusion), 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. (PageID.261-65).
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) she can
lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently;
(2) during an 8-hour workday, she can sit for 6 hours and
stand/walk for 2 hours; (3) she needs a cane to ambulate on
uneven ground; (4) she can occasionally crawl, stoop, kneel,
balance, crouch, and climb ramps/stairs; (5) she must avoid
concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor
ventilation, hazardous machinery, and unprotected heights;
(6) she cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (7) she