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Miller v. Berryhill

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

November 13, 2017

KATHLEEN A. MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Honorable Robert H. Cleland Magistrate, Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [ECF. NOS. 12, 15]

          ELIZABETH A. STAFFORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Kathleen Miller appeals a final decision of defendant Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) 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 administrative law judge's (ALJ) decision is supported by substantial evidence, and thus RECOMMENDS that:

• Miller's motion [ECF No. 12] be DENIED;
• the Commissioner's motion [ECF No. 15] be GRANTED; and
• the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Miller's Background and Disability Applications

         Miller was born on August 28, 1968, making her 44 years old on her alleged onset date of April 1, 2013. [ECF No. 10-5, Tr. 131]. She applied for disability benefits in January 2014 and is insured for DIB purposes through March 31, 2018. [Id.; ECF No. 10-2, Tr. 23]. Miller attained a GED in 1991 and has prior work history as a barista, cashier, and fast-food worker. [ECF No. 10-6, Tr. 149-50]. She alleged disability due to degenerative disc disease (DDD), arthritis, seizures, spinal and left knee pain, difficult ambulation, tinnitus, fatigue, sleep difficulties, and anxiety attacks. [ECF No. 10-6, Tr. 148].

         After the Commissioner denied her disability application initially, Miller requested a hearing, which took place in September 2015, during which she and a vocational expert (VE) testified. [ECF No. 10-2, Tr. 33-54]. In a November 4, 2015, written decision, the ALJ found Miller to be not disabled. [Id., Tr. 28]. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner, and Miller timely filed for judicial review. [Id., Tr. 1-3; ECF No. 1].

         B. The ALJ's Application of the Disability Framework Analysis

         DIB is 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).

         The 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). Second, if the claimant has not had a severe impairment or a combination of such impairments[1] 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, 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).

         Applying this framework, the ALJ concluded that Miller was not disabled. At the first step, he found that Miller had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. [ECF No. 10-2, Tr. 23]. At the second step, the ALJ found that Miller had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, arthritis, seizure disorder, and high blood pressure. [Id.]. Next, the ALJ concluded that none of the ...


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