United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
BERNARD A. FRIEDMAN SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is presently before the Court on cross motions for
summary judgment [docket entries 14 and 15]. Pursuant to E.D.
Mich. 7.1(f)(2), the Court shall decide these motions without
a hearing. For the reasons stated below, the Court shall
grant plaintiff's motion, deny defendant's motion,
and remand the matter for further proceedings.
has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to
challenge defendant's final decision denying his
applications for Supplemental Security Income and Social
Security disability insurance benefits. An Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing in March 2015 (Tr.
39-78) and issued a decision denying benefits the same month
(Tr. 22-33). In June 2016, this became defendant's final
decision when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's
request for review (Tr. 8-11).
§ 405(g), the issue before the Court is whether the
ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. As
the Sixth Circuit has explained, the Court
must affirm the Commissioner's findings if they are
supported by substantial evidence and the Commissioner
employed the proper legal standard. White, 572 F.3d
at 281 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)); Elam ex rel.
Golay v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th
Cir. 2003); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127
F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (internal quotation marks
omitted); see also Kyle, 609 F.3d at 854 (quoting
Lindsley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601,
604 (6th Cir. 2009)). Where the Commissioner's decision
is supported by substantial evidence, it must be upheld even
if the record might support a contrary conclusion. Smith
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 893 F.2d 106,
108 (6th Cir. 1989). However, a substantiality of evidence
evaluation does not permit a selective reading of the record.
“Substantiality of the evidence must be based upon the
record taken as a whole. Substantial evidence is not simply
some evidence, or even a great deal of evidence. Rather, the
substantiality of evidence must take into account whatever in
the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Garner
v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 388 (6th Cir. 1984) (internal
citations and quotation marks omitted).
Brooks v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 531 F. App'x
636, 640-41 (6th Cir. 2013).
time of the ALJ's decision, plaintiff was 48 years old
(Tr. 48). He has a college education (Tr. 48) but no relevant
work experience (Tr. 73, 215). Plaintiff claims he has been
disabled since July 2013 due to a seizure disorder, back
pain, and anxiety attacks (Tr. 46, 208).
found that plaintiff has no severe impairments (Tr. 28,
finding 4). Specifically, the ALJ found that plaintiff's
lumbar spine disorder, while medically determined, is
non-severe (Tr. 31) and that his seizure disorder and panic
attacks are not medically determined (Tr. 29). The ALJ
therefore concluded at step two of the sequential evaluation
process that plaintiff is not disabled.
reviewed the administrative record and the parties'
briefs, the Court concludes that substantial evidence does
not support the ALJ's finding that plaintiff has no
severe impairments. For the reasons stated below, the Court
shall remand the matter for further proceedings beyond step
substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's finding
that plaintiff's lumbar spine disorder is a non-severe
impairment (Tr. 28). As this Court has explained,
[a] severe impairment or combination of impairments is one
that significantly limits the claimant's physical or
mental ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). Basic work activities,
defined as the physical or mental abilities and aptitudes
necessary to perform most jobs, includes the ability to walk;
stand; sit; lift; push; pull; reach; carry; handle; see;
hear; speak; understand, carry out, and remember simple
instructions; use judgment; respond appropriately to
supervision, coworkers and usual work situations; and deal
with changes in a routine work setting. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1521, 416.921. The Sixth Circuit court has
determined that the step-two requirement serves as a
“de minimus” threshold hurdle in the disability
process. Higgs v. Bowen, 880 F.2d 860, 862-63 (6th
Cir.1988). The inquiry at step two functions as an
“administrative convenience to screen out claims that
are totally groundless” from a medical perspective.
Id. at 863 (citation omitted). An impairment will be
considered non-severe only if it is a “slight
abnormality which has such a minimal effect on the individual
that it would not be expected to interfere with the
individual's ability to work, irrespective of age,
education and work experience.” Farris v. Sec'y
of Health & Human Servs., 773 F.2d 85, 90 (6th
Cir.1985) (citation omitted). “Under this standard, the
question . . . is whether there is substantial evidence in
the record supporting the ALJ's finding that [the
plaintiff] has only a ‘slight' impairment that does
not affect her ability to work.” Id.
Betty v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 15-CV-10734,
2016 WL 1105008, at *3 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 17, 2016), report and
recommendation adopted, No. 15-CV-10734-DT, 2016 WL 1090554
(E.D. Mich. Mar. 21, 2016).
present case, the ALJ clearly erred in dismissing
plaintiff's lumbar spine disorder on the grounds that it
“does not significantly limit (have more than a minimal
effect on) his ability to perform basic work
activities” (Tr. 31). In October 2014, an MRI of
plaintiff's lumbar spine revealed
1. Right paracentral disc protrusion at ¶ 5-S1 which
abuts the right S1 nerve root without ...