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Reese v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

December 14, 2017




         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Shari Lynn Reese seeks judicial review of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's determination that she is not entitled to Social Security benefits. (Docket no. 1.) Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 19) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 22). With consent of the parties, this case has been referred to the undersigned for final judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. (Docket no. 17.) The Court has reviewed the pleadings and dispenses with a hearing pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f)(2).


         On October 18, 2012, Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income Benefits (“SSI”) on the basis of alleged physical and mental impairments. (TR 161-71.) The Social Security Administration initially denied Plaintiff's claims. (TR 96-103.) On May 27, 2015, Plaintiff appeared with a representative and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Stephen Marchioro. (TR 32.) On August 19, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on Plaintiff's claims. (TR 32-67.) Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council, which was denied on September 1, 2016. (TR 1-6.) On November 4, 2016, Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review, and the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, which are currently before the Court. (Docket no. 19; docket no. 22.)


         Plaintiff sets forth a brief procedural history of this matter as well as a short summary of the relevant medical records. (Docket no. 19, pp. 3-15.) The ALJ summarized Plaintiff's medical records (TR 17-25), and Defendant deferred to the ALJ's summary (docket no. 22, p. 4). Having conducted an independent review of Plaintiff's medical record and the hearing transcript, the undersigned finds that there are no material inconsistencies among these recitations of the record. Therefore, in lieu of re-summarizing this information, the undersigned will incorporate the above-cited factual recitations by reference and will also refer and cite to the record as necessary to address the parties' arguments.


         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity since October 4, 2012, the alleged onset date. (TR 16.) In addition, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “cerebrovascular accident (CVA) and late effects of cerebrovascular disease.” (Id. at 17.) Nevertheless, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (TR 18.) In addition, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, occasionally climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds, frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and occasionally crawl, that she must avoid frequent exposure to excessive vibration, and that she is limited to simple, routine and repetitive work tasks with no production or pace work. (TR 18.) On the basis of this determination, the ALJ posed a hypothetical to the Vocational Expert (“VE”), who testified Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a housekeeper/cleaner. (TR 25.) Consequently, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time since October 4, 2012, the alleged onset date. (TR 25.)


         A. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decisions. Judicial review of the Commissioner's decisions is limited to determining whether his findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether he employed the proper legal standards. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Walters v. Comm'r, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Walters, 127 F.3d at 528. It is not the function of this Court to try cases de novo, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or decide questions of credibility. See Brainard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989); Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984).

         In determining the existence of substantial evidence, the court must examine the administrative record as a whole. See Kirk v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 536 (6th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it must be affirmed, even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently, Kinsella v. Schweiker, 708 F.2d 1058, 1059 (6th Cir. 1983), and even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. See Her v. Comm'r, 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999); Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (en banc) (noting that the substantial evidence standard “presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which the decisionmakers can go either way, without interference by the courts”). “But ‘[a]n ALJ's failure to follow agency rules and regulations denotes a lack of substantial evidence, even where the conclusion of the ALJ may be justified based upon the record.'” Gayheart v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 710 F.3d 365, 374 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Cole v. Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir. 2011)).

         B. Framework for Social Security Determinations

         Plaintiff's Social Security disability determination was made in accordance with a five-step sequential analysis. In the first ...

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