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Stevenson v. Berryhill

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

January 12, 2018

TERESA STEVENSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          HONORABLE PAUL D. BORMAN JUDGE.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [ECF NOS. 13, 14]

          ELIZABETH A. STAFFORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Teresa Stevenson 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 that:

. Stevenson's motion [ECF No. 13] be DENIED;
. the Commissioner's motion [ECF No. 14] be GRANTED; and
. the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Background and Disability Applications

         Stevenson was born on March 8, 1951, making her 64 years old on her alleged onset date of March 31, 2015. [ECF No. 10-5, Tr. 151]. She has a high school education and prior work history as a chemical dependency counselor and a family counselor. [ECF No. 10-2, Tr. 27]. She alleged disability due to Alzheimer's disease and chronic depression. [ECF No. 11-6, Tr. 164].

         After the Commissioner denied her disability application initially, Stevenson requested a hearing, which took place in June 2016, during which she and a vocational expert (VE) testified. [ECF No. 10-2, Tr. 34-52]. In a June 24, 2016, written decision, the ALJ found Stevenson to be not disabled. [Id., Tr. 28]. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner, and Stevenson timely filed for judicial review. [Id., Tr. 1-3; ECF No. 1].

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

         DIB is 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).

         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). Second, if the claimant has not had a severe impairment or a combination of such impairments[1] 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).

         Applying this framework, the ALJ concluded that Stevenson was not disabled. At the first step, she found that Stevenson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. [ECF No. 10-2, Tr. 20]. At the second step, the ALJ found that Stevenson had the severe impairments of depression and Alzheimer's. [Id.]. Next, the ALJ concluded that none of her impairments, ...


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