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Beatty v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

October 11, 2017

TAMMY S. BEATTY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [14, 19]

          Honorable Thomas L. Ludington Magistrate Judge David R. Grand

         Plaintiff Tammy Beatty (“Beatty”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), challenging the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). Both parties have filed summary judgment motions [14, 19], which have been referred to this Court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) conclusion that Beatty is not disabled under the Act is not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court recommends that the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [19] be DENIED, Beatty's Motion for Summary Judgment [14] be GRANTED IN PART to the extent it seeks remand and DENIED IN PART to the extent it seeks an award of benefits, and that, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this case be REMANDED to the ALJ for further proceedings consistent with this Recommendation.

         II. REPORT

         A. Procedural History

         On January 28, 2014, Beatty filed an application for DIB, alleging a disability onset date of November 19, 2013. (Tr. 61). This application was initially denied on March 25, 2014. (Tr. 72-75). Beatty filed a timely request for an administrative hearing, which was held on May 12, 2015, before ALJ Paul W. Jones. (Tr. 30-60). Beatty, who was represented by attorney Clifford Walkon, testified at the hearing, as did vocational expert Amelia Shelton. (Id.). On May 22, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Beatty is not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 14-29). On August 11, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review. (Tr. 1-7). Beatty timely filed for judicial review of the final decision on October 1, 2016. (Doc. #1).

         B. Framework for Disability Determinations

         Under the Act, DIB are available only for those who have a “disability.” See Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). The Act defines “disability” as the:

inability to engage in any 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 12 months.

         42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A). The Commissioner's regulations provide that a disability is to be determined through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:

Step One: If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Two: If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments that “significantly limits . . . physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, ” benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Three: If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, has a severe impairment that is expected to last for at least twelve months, and the severe impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the regulations, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled regardless of age, education, or work experience.
Step Four: If the claimant is able to perform his or her past relevant work, benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Five: Even if the claimant is unable to perform his or her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that the claimant can perform, in view of his or her age, education, and work experience, benefits are denied.

Scheuneman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2011 WL 6937331, at *7 (E.D. Mich. Dec. 6, 2011) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520); see also Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001). “The burden of proof is on the claimant throughout the first four steps …. If the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that claimant is not disabled, the burden transfers to the [defendant].” Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).

         C. Background

         1. Beatty's Reports and Testimony

         At the time of the administrative hearing, Beatty was 45 years old, and at 5'7” tall, weighed 220 pounds. (Tr. 33-34). She was living in a house with her husband, who had problems with “his neck and his back” and was receiving disability benefits, and her nineteen year old son, who worked full time. (Tr. 34-36, 178). Beatty completed high school and two years of college. She received a certificate in nursing and previously held a license as a Licensed Practical Nurse (“LPN”). (Tr. 36-37, 151). She testified she worked as an LPN for about twenty five years; however, she stopped working in November, 2013, when her various conditions became too painful. (Tr. 39, 150, 164).

         Beatty alleges disability as a result of arthritis, multiple foot surgeries and related complications, sarcoidosis, migraines, neuropathy, and hip bursitis. (Tr. 150). With respect to her feet, Beatty initially had bilateral foot surgeries in 2012. (Tr. 155). She testified she has had problems with her feet ever since. (Tr. 39). She indicated she initially stopped working because she “had an ulcer on her right foot that wouldn't heal, ” although it was eventually corrected with foot surgery where “they removed part of the bone.” (Tr. 39). She also had a “fracture in [her] right foot that [wouldn't] heal” that prevented her from putting weight on her ...


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