United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
Honorable George Caram Steeh
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT [ECF. NOS. 10, 11]
ELIZABETH A. STAFFORD United States Magistrate Judge
Valerie Smith 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
. Smith's motion [ECF No. 10] be
. the Commissioner's motion [ECF No. 11]
be GRANTED; and
. the Commissioner's decision be
AFFIRMED pursuant to sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
Smith's Background and Disability Applications
was born on July 27, 1966, making her 46 years old on her
alleged onset date of May 18, 2013. [ECF No. 8-5, Tr. 162].
She applied for disability benefits in December 2013 and is
insured for DIB purposes through December 31, 2018.
[Id.; ECF No. 8-2, Tr. 19]. Smith has at least a
high school education, and past relevant work as an office
assistant and office manager. [ECF No. 8-2, Tr. 24-25]. She
alleged disability due to mental illnesses, including
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive
disorder, anxiety, paranoia and suicidal ideation. [ECF No.
8-6, Tr. 194].
the Commissioner denied her disability application initially,
Smith requested a hearing, which took place in July 2015,
during which she and a vocational expert (VE) testified. [ECF
No. 8-2, Tr. 34-88]. In a January 28, 2016, written decision,
the ALJ found Smith to be not disabled. [Id., Tr.
26]. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner, and Smith
timely filed for judicial review. [Id., Tr. 1-3; ECF
The ALJ's Application of the Disability Framework
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).
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 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).
this framework, the ALJ concluded that Smith was not
disabled. At the first step, he found that she had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged
onset date. [ECF No. 8-2, Tr. 19]. At the second step, the
ALJ found that Smith had the severe impairments of depression
with anxiety. [Id.]. Next, the ALJ concluded that
none of the impairments, either alone or in combination, met
or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment.
[Id., Tr. 20-21].
the third and fourth steps, the ALJ found that Smith had the
RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels,
but with nonexertional limitations:
[T]he claimant needs to avoid hazards including work at
unprotected heights and work around dangerous moving
machinery. She must not climb ladders, scaffolds, and ropes
and must not drive in the course of employment. The claimant
has the ability for, but is restricted to unskilled work,
meaning [she] needs work that requires little or no judgment
to do simple duties that can be learned on the job in a short
period of time. She must not work with the general public or
have more than occasional contact with ...