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Moore v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

December 11, 2017

JAMES O. MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Hon. Paul L. Maloney, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          RAY KENT, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying his claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI).

         Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of November 17, 2007. PageID.340. Plaintiff testified that his disability arose from injuries suffered in an automobile accident in November 2007. PageID.142. Plaintiff identified his disabling conditions as: head injuries; neck problems; back problems; broken bones in skull; broken ribs; and complications from the accident. PageID.340. Prior to filing his application for DIB, plaintiff completed the 12th grade and had past employment as a production machinist in an automotive factory. PageID.341, 346. The administrative law judge (ALJ) reviewed plaintiff's claim de novo and entered a written decision denying benefits on August 31, 2012. PageID.86-97. Plaintiff appealed the decision to this Court, which remanded the matter back to the Commissioner for further fact finding. See Moore v. Commissioner, 1:14-cv-375 (Order) (ECF No. 20). On remand, the ALJ held a second hearing, reviewed plaintiff's claim de novo, and entered a written decision denying benefits on June 29, 2016. PageID.576-591, 601-621. This decision, which was later approved by the Appeals Council, has become the final decision of the Commissioner and is now before the Court for review.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         This Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is typically focused on determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); McKnight v. Sullivan, 927 F.2d 241 (6th Cir. 1990). “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.” Cutlip v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). A determination of substantiality of the evidence must be based upon the record taken as a whole. Young v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 925 F.2d 146 (6th Cir. 1990).

         The scope of this review is limited to an examination of the record only. This Court does not review the evidence de novo, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Brainard v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989). The fact that the record also contains evidence which would have supported a different conclusion does not undermine the Commissioner's decision so long as there is substantial support for that decision in the record. Willbanks v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 847 F.2d 301, 303 (6th Cir. 1988). Even if the reviewing court would resolve the dispute differently, the Commissioner's decision must stand if it is supported by substantial evidence. Young, 925 F.2d at 147.

         A claimant must prove that he suffers from a disability in order to be entitled to benefits. A disability is established by showing that the claimant cannot engage in 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. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505 and 416.905; Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990). In applying the above standard, the Commissioner has developed a five-step analysis:

The Social Security Act requires the Secretary to follow a “five-step sequential process” for claims of disability. First, plaintiff must demonstrate that she is not currently engaged in “substantial gainful activity” at the time she seeks disability benefits. Second, plaintiff must show that she suffers from a “severe impairment” in order to warrant a finding of disability. A “severe impairment” is one which “significantly limits . . . physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” Third, if plaintiff is not performing substantial gainful activity, has a severe impairment that is expected to last for at least twelve months, and the impairment meets a listed impairment, plaintiff is presumed to be disabled regardless of age, education or work experience. Fourth, if the plaintiff's impairment does not prevent her from doing her past relevant work, plaintiff is not disabled. For the fifth and final step, even if the plaintiff's impairment does prevent her from doing her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that plaintiff can perform, plaintiff is not disabled.

Heston v. Commissioner of Social Security, 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted).

         The claimant bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by her impairments and the fact that she is precluded from performing her past relevant work through step four. Jones v. Commissioner of Social Security, 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). However, at step five of the inquiry, “the burden shifts to the Commissioner to identify a significant number of jobs in the economy that accommodate the claimant's residual functional capacity (determined at step four) and vocational profile.” Id. If it is determined that a claimant is or is not disabled at any point in the evaluation process, further review is not necessary. Mullis v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 991, 993 (6th Cir. 1988).

         “The federal court's standard of review for SSI cases mirrors the standard applied in social security disability cases.” D'Angelo v. Commissioner of Social Security, 475 F.Supp.2d 716, 719 (W.D. Mich. 2007). “The proper inquiry in an application for SSI benefits is whether the plaintiff was disabled on or after her application date.” Casey v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993).

         II. ALJ'S DECISION

         Plaintiff's claim failed at the fifth step of the evaluation. At the first step, the ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of November 17, 2007 and that he met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2012. PageID.578. At the second step, the ALJ found that plaintiff has the following severe impairments: history of cervical spine fusion (2003); history of facial fractures; right knee chondrocalcinosis, status post 1997 arthroscopic repair; obesity; degenerative disc disease and spondylosis of the spine; headaches; and, affective disorder. PageID.578. At the third step, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the requirements of the Listing of Impairments in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. PageID.584.

         The ALJ decided at the fourth step that:

[C]laimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except: he can occasionally climb, stoop, and crouch; he can frequently balance, kneel, and crawl; he can have frequent exposure to vibration and fumes; he can perform simple, routine and repetitive work involving occasional interaction with coworkers.

PageID.585. The ALJ also found that plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. PageID.589.

         At the fifth step, the ALJ determined that plaintiff could perform a significant number of unskilled, light exertional jobs in the national economy. PageID.590. Specifically, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform the following unskilled work in the national economy: assembler (467, 000 jobs); sorter/packer (337, 000 jobs); and inspector (136, 000 jobs). PageID.590. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 17, 2007 (the alleged onset date) through June 29, 2016 (the date of the decision). PageID.591.

         III. ...


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