United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
ANTHONY W. BLANKENSHIP, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
Honorable Avern Cohn
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT [ECF. NOS. 11, 12]
ELIZABETH A. STAFFORD United States Magistrate Judge
Anthony Blankenship appeals a final decision of defendant
Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying his
application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and
supplemental security income benefits (SSI) under the Social
Security Act. Both parties have filed summary judgment
motions, referred to this Court for a report and
recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).
After review of the record, the Court finds that the ALJ
failed to give good reasons on the record for according less
than controlling weight to the treating physician's
opinions, and thus RECOMMENDS that:
the Commissioner's motion [ECF No. 12] be
Blankenship's motion [ECF No. 11] be GRANTED IN
PART to the extent it seeks remand, but
DENIED IN PART to the extent it seeks
reversal and a direct award of benefits; and
the matter be REMANDED pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further consideration
consistent with this report and recommendation.
Blankenship's Background and Disability
October 12, 1964, Blankenship was 50 years old at the time of
his amended alleged onset date of October 12, 2014. [ECF No.
9-2, Tr. 20, 27]. He submitted his applications for
disability benefits in April 2014 and was insured for DIB
purposes through December 31, 2017. [ECF No. 9-2, Tr. 20; ECF
No. 9-5, Tr. 145-158]. Blankenship has a limited education,
but is able to communicate in English. [ECF No. 9-2, Tr. 27].
He has prior work history as a tow truck driver and as a crew
manager. [Id.] He claimed to be disabled due to back
problems, emphysema, and hypertension. [ECF No. 9-2, Tr. 22;
citing Ex. 2E].
the Commissioner initially denied his application,
Blankenship requested a hearing, which took place in January
2016, during which he and a vocational expert (VE) testified.
[ECF No. 9-2, Tr. 34-56]. In a February 9, 2016, written
decision, the ALJ found Blankenship to be not disabled. [ECF
No. 9-2, Tr. 15-33]. The Appeals Council denied review,
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner, and Blankenship timely filed for judicial
review. [ECF No. 9-2, Tr. 1-6; ECF No. 1].
The ALJ's Application of the Disability Framework
SSI are available for those who have a
“disability.” See Colvin v. Barnhart,
475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). A “disability”
is 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A).
Commissioner determines whether an applicant is disabled by
analyzing five sequential steps. First, if the applicant is
“doing substantial gainful activity, ” he or she
will be found not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4); 416.920(a)(4). Second, if the claimant has not
had a severe impairment or a combination of such impairments
for a continuous period of at least 12 months, no disability
will be found. Id. Third, if the claimant's
severe impairments meet or equal the criteria of an
impairment set forth in the Commissioner's Listing of
Impairments, the claimant will be found disabled.
Id. If the fourth step is reached, the Commissioner
considers its assessment of the claimant's residual
functional capacity (RFC), and will find the claimant not
disabled if he or she can still do past relevant work.
Id. At the final step, the Commissioner reviews the
claimant's RFC, age, education and work experiences, and
determines whether the claimant could adjust to other work.
Id. The claimant bears the burden of proof
throughout the first four steps, but the burden shifts to the
Commissioner if the fifth step is reached. Preslar v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107,
1110 (6th Cir. 1994).
this framework, the ALJ concluded that Blankenship was not
disabled. At the first step, he found that Blankenship had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his amended
alleged onset date. [ECF No. 9-2, Tr. 20]. At the second
step, the ALJ found that Blankenship had the severe
impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine
with radiculopathy; status-post lumbar discectomy and
laminectomy (2013); peripheral neuropathy; hypertension; and
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). [Id.]
Next, the ALJ concluded that none of his impairments, either
alone or in combination, met or medically equaled the
severity of a listed impairment. [Id., Tr. 21].
the third and fourth steps, the ALJ found that Blankenship
had the following RFC:
Claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)
with lifting and carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10
pounds frequently, sitting for six hours, standing for four
hours, and walking for four hours; requires the use of a cane
for frequent walking for pain and balancing; able to lift
while using a cane; pushing and pulling is limited to as much
as he can lift and carry; only occasional climbing of ramps
and stairs; no climbing ladders or scaffolds; occasional
balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; must
avoid all hazards including unprotected heights, moving
mechanical parts, and operating a motor vehicle; and must
avoid concentrated exposure to humidity and wetness,
respiratory irritants, and extreme temperatures.
[Id., Tr. 21]. At step four, the ALJ found that
Blankenship was unable to perform any past relevant work.
[Id., Tr. 27]. With the assistance of VE testimony,
he determined at step five that Blankenship could perform
occupations such as packer, sorter, and inspector and that
those jobs existed in significant numbers in the ...