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Davis v. Berryhill

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

November 16, 2017

MICHELE C. DAVIS, Plaintiff,

          Honorable Avern Cohn


          ELIZABETH A. STAFFORD United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Michelle C. Davis appeals a final decision of defendant Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income benefits (SSI) under the Social Security Act. Both parties have filed summary judgment motions, [1] 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 plaintiff has identified no reversible error, and thus RECOMMENDS that:

. the Commissioner's motion [ECF No. 24] be GRANTED;
. Davis's motion [ECF No. 18] be DENIED; and
. the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Davis's Background and Disability Applications

         Born January 20, 1976, Davis was 35 years old at the time of her amended onset date of December 5, 2011. [ECF No. 15-3, Tr. 90; ECF No. 15-5, Tr. 233]. For DIB purposes, her date last insured was December 31, 2011. [ECF No. 15-2, Tr. 20]. Davis has a high school education, and is able to communicate in English. [Id., Tr. 32]. She has prior work history as a nurse assistant, receptionist, cashier, bookkeeper, and bank teller. [Id.] She claimed to be disabled due to complex regional pain syndrome of the right foot and leg, obstructive sleep apnea, chronic migraines, high blood pressure, diverticulosis, chronic urinary tract infections, chronic nausea, and severe plantar warts on the left foot. [ECF No. 15-3, Tr. 90].

         After the Commissioner initially denied her applications, Davis requested a hearing, which took place in May 2016, during which she and a vocational expert (VE) testified. [ECF No. 15-2, Tr. 41-89]. In a May 23, 2016, written decision, the ALJ found Davis to be not disabled prior to March 23, 2014, but to be disabled after that date. [ECF No. 15-2, Tr. 16-40]. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner, and Davis timely filed for judicial review of the disfavorable portion of the ALJ's decision. [ECF No. 15-2, Tr. 1-4; ECF No. 1].

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

         DIB and 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).

         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); 416.920(a)(4).[2] 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.[3] 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).

         Applying this framework, the ALJ concluded that Davis was not disabled prior to March 23, 2014. At the first step, he found that Davis had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her amended alleged onset date. [ECF No. 15-2, Tr. 22]. At the second step, the ALJ found that since the amended alleged onset date, December 5, 2011, Davis had the severe impairments of obesity, migraines with photophobia, varicose veins, plantar warts, posttraumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder with agoraphobia. [Id.] Next, the ALJ concluded that none of Davis's impairments, either alone or in combination, met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. [Id., Tr. 23].

         Between the third and fourth steps, the ALJ found that prior to March 23, 2014, the date Davis became disabled, she had the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined by 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a), and with the following additional limitations:

She could lift no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lift or carry articles such as docket files, ledgers, and small tools. She could sit for six hours in an eight-hour day and stand and walk for two hours in an eight-hour day. She could occasionally climb ramps and stairs but could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She could occasionally balance and stoop, but never kneel, crouch, or crawl. She was limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. She could frequently interact with supervisors and coworkers, but only occasionally interact with the public.

[Id., Tr. 25 ]. At step four, the ALJ found that Davis was unable to perform any past relevant work since her amended alleged onset date. [Id., Tr.32]. With the assistance of VE testimony, he determined at step five that prior to March 23, 2014, there were jobs that Davis could perform such as bench assembler, inserter, and sorter, and that those jobs existed in significant ...

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