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Jackson v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

October 19, 2017

VALERIE DARLENE JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant .

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S OPINION AND ORDER ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCS. 15, 20)

          PATRICIA T. MORRIS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         In light of the entire record in this case, I suggest that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's determination that Jackson is not disabled. Accordingly, IT IS RECOMMENDED that Jackson's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. 15), be DENIED, the Commissioner's Motion, (Doc. 20), be GRANTED, and this case be AFFIRMED.

         II. REPORT

         A. Introduction and Procedural History

         This is an action for judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Valerie Darlene Jackson's (“Jackson”) claims for disability benefits under the Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) program of Title II, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., and the Supplemental Security Income Benefits (“SSI”) program of Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. (Doc. 1). The case is before the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to the parties' consent under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), E.D. Mich. LR 72.1(b)(3), and by Notice of Reference. (Docs. 14, 16). The matter is currently before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 15, 20).

         On December 2, 2013, Jackson filed an application for DIB alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 1980. (Tr. 152-58). She followed this with an application for SSI on December 21, 2013, alleging the same disability onset date. (Tr. 159-67). The Commissioner denied her claims. (Tr. 51, 65). Jackson then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which occurred on May 12, 2015, before ALJ Frederick McGrath. (Tr. 36-50). At the hearing, she amended her alleged onset date to June 1, 2014. (Tr. 38). The ALJ's written decision, issued June 5, 2013, found Jackson not disabled. (Tr. 20-35). On October 27, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review, (Tr. 1-6), and Jackson filed for judicial review of that final decision on December 19, 2016. (Doc. 1).

         B. Standard of Review

         The district court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The district court's review is restricted solely to determining whether the “Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.” Sullivan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 595 F App'x. 502, 506 (6th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The Court must examine the administrative record as a whole, and may consider any evidence in the record, regardless of whether it has been cited by the ALJ. See Walker v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 884 F.2d 241, 245 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court will not “try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, “it must be affirmed even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently and even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion.” Id. at 286 (internal citations omitted).

         C. Framework for Disability Determinations

         Under the Act, “DIB and SSI are available only for those who have a ‘disability.'” Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). “Disability” means 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 [twelve] months.

42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (DIB); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a) (SSI). The Commissioner's regulations provide that disability is to be determined through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:

(i) At the first step, we consider your work activity, if any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will find that you are not disabled.
(ii) At the second step, we consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you do not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that meets the duration requirement . . . or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are not disabled.
(iii) At the third step, we also consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you have an impairment(s) that meets or equals one of our listings in appendix 1 of this subpart and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are disabled.
(iv) At the fourth step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your past relevant work. If you can still do your past relevant work, we will find that you are not disabled.
(v) At the fifth and last step, we condiser our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your age, education, and work experience to see if you can make an adjustment to other work. If you can make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are not disabled. If you cannot make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are disabled.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001). “Through step four, the claimant bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by [his or] her impairments and the fact that she is precluded from performing [his or] her past relevant work.” Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). The burden transfers to the Commissioner if the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that the claimant is not disabled. Combs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 643 (6th Cir. 2006). At the fifth step, the Commissioner is required to show that “other jobs in significant numbers exist in the national economy that [the claimant] could perform given [his or] her RFC [residual functional capacity] and considering relevant vocational factors.” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), (g)).

         Under the authority of the Social Security Act, the SSA has promulgated regulations that provide for the payment of disabled child's insurance benefits if the claimant is at least eighteen years old and has a disability that began before age twenty-two (20 C.F.R. 404.350(a) (5) (2013). A claimant must establish a medically determinable physical or mental impairment (expected to last at least twelve months or result in death) that rendered her unable to engage in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation for evaluating disability claims. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

         D. ALJ Findings

         Following the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ found Jackson not disabled. (Tr. 23-31). At Step One, the ALJ found that Jackson last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2017, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity in the interval between her alleged onset date of June 1, 2014 and her date last insured. (Tr. 25). At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that the following impairments qualified as severe: degenerative disc disease and arthritis of L5, chronic edema of the legs and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and obesity. (Tr. 25). The ALJ also decided, however, that none of these met or medically equaled a listed impairment at Step Three. (Tr. 26). Thereafter, the ALJ found that Jackson had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work except

the claimant should never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. This claimant is precluded from work around unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. In addition, this claimant should not engage in repetitive stooping and squatting. Further, this claimant should avoid ...

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