United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Northern Division
OPINION AND ORDER ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT (DOCS. 12, 18)
PATRICIA T. MORRIS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Introduction and Procedural History
an action for judicial review of a final decision by the
Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Jonnie
Quattlebaum's (“Quattlebaum”) claim for
disability benefits under the Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) program of Title II, 42 U.S.C. § 401
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. 16, 17). The matter is currently
before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment.
(Docs. 12, 18).
November 2, 2009, Quattlebaum filed an application for DIB
alleging a disability onset date of January 23, 2009. (Tr.
179-86). The Commissioner denied her claim. (Tr. 104-10).
Quattlebaum then requested a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”), which occurred on October 6,
2011, before ALJ Edward Bowling. (Tr. 44-103). The ALJ's
written decision, issued February 24, 2012, found Quattlebaum
not disabled. (Tr. 16-43). On February 20, 2013, the Appeals
Council denied review. (Tr. 1-6). She appealed this denial,
however, and the Commissioner decided not to oppose her
action, requesting instead that the U.S. District Court for
the Eastern District of North Carolina remand the case for
further administrative proceedings. (Tr. 1319-25). Another
hearing was held on May 6, 2015, before ALJ James Gramenos.
(Tr. 1241-1312). He issued an unfavorable written decision on
September 14, 2015, (Tr. 1209-40), and the Appeals Council
later denied review, (Tr. 1194-99). Quattlebaum again filed
for judicial review of that final decision on August 19,
2016. (Doc. 1).
Standard of Review
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).
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
Framework for Disability Determinations
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)).
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.
the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ found Quattlebaum
not disabled. (Tr. 1209-40). At Step One, the ALJ found that
Quattlebaum last met the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act on December 31, 2013, and had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity in the interval between her
alleged onset date of January 23, 2009 and her date last
insured. (Tr. 1216). At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that the
following impairments qualified as severe: pseudo
seizures/seizures; chronic headaches; history of left knee
surgery; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine;
obesity; bipolar disorder; anxiety; and post-traumatic stress
disorder. (Tr. 1216). The ALJ also decided, however, that
none of these met or medically equaled a listed impairment at
Step Three. (Tr. 1216-18). Thereafter, the ALJ found that
Quattlebaum had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, except
Claimant can ‘occasionally' . . . lift and/or
carry weights not to exceed 10 pounds. Can
‘frequently' . . . lift weights not to exceed 5
pounds. Able to engage in the positions of standing and/or
walking in the work setting, assuming normal work periods of
work breaks, for an overall total of up to at least 2 hours
during normal 8-hour work periods. Assuming normal breaks in
an 8-hour work setting, has the functional abilities to
engage in sitting positions for at least an overall period of
6-hours when performing work activity. Eliminate jobs from
consideration that would require the worker, as related to
specific job titles and duties, to engage bending form [sic]
waist and/or knees to pick up objects or items from the floor
level, other than rare situations. Eliminate jobs that by the
DOT definition of the job title would require the worker to
engage in reaching above the shoulder level with either upper
extremity. Claimant shall not perform jobs that would have
extremes of cold, heat, wetness, and humidity. Able to focus
on the job for at least 2-hours at a time, taking into
consideration normal 15 minute work break midway during the
first 4-hours, during the meal period break, in addition to
the 15-minute break midway during the last 4-hours of work.
Claimant shall not engage in work activity in jobs that would
have hazards in the work setting from unprotected areas such
as moving machinery; heights; ramps; ladders; and
scaffolding. Claimant is educated in the English language and
has the basic mental abilities to understand, remember, and
carry out unskilled work through instructions in the English
language and/or demonstration. Is able to engage in unskilled
work activity that does not require working with the general
public, or a tandem type job with other workers. Claimant has
the mental functioning abilities to respond appropriately to
usual work situations, and with coworkers. Has the ability to
get along with coworkers and supervisors without distracting
them or exhibiting behavioral extremes. Claimant requires job
assignments that would allow for superficial interactions
with supervisors and coworkers.
(Tr. 1220-21). At Step Four, the ALJ found Quattlebaum did
not have any past relevant work. (Tr. 1228). Proceeding to
Step Five, the ALJ determined that jobs existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that Quattlebaum
could perform. (Tr. 1229-30).
Court has reviewed Quattlebaum's medical record. In lieu
of summarizing her medical history here, the Court will make
references and provide citations to the record as necessary
in its discussion of the parties' arguments.
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