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Boza v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

January 17, 2018

Raymond R. Boza, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         This is a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. On September 24, 2013, plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI benefits. Plaintiff alleged an August 24, 2012, onset of disability. (ECF No. 7-5, PageID.189-95). Plaintiff's claims were denied on initial review. (ECF No. 7-4, PageID.119-22). On June 23, 2015, he received a hearing before an ALJ. (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.72-106). On September 2, 2015, the ALJ issued her decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled. (Op., ECF No. 7-2, PageID.58-67). On September 19, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.40-43), and the ALJs decision became the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner's decision should be overturned on the following grounds:

I. The ALJ did not build an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and her findings regarding plaintiff's RFC.
II. The ALJ improperly assessed plaintiff's subjective complaints.

(Plf. Brief at 7, 11, ECF No. 11, PageID.536, 540). I recommend that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         Standard of Review

         When reviewing the grant or denial of social security benefits, this court is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner correctly applied the law. See Elam ex rel. Golay v. Commissioner, 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th Cir. 2003); Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence is defined as “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Heston v. Commissioner, 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)); see Rogers v. Commissioner, 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). The scope of the court's review is limited. Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772. The court does not review the evidence de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or make credibility determinations. See Ulman v. Commissioner, 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012); Walters v. Commissioner, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). “The findings of the [Commissioner] as to any fact if supported by substantial evidence shall be conclusive[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see McClanahan v. Commissioner, 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006). “The findings of the Commissioner are not subject to reversal merely because there exists in the record substantial evidence to support a different conclusion. . . . This is so because there is a ‘zone of choice' within which the Commissioner can act without fear of court interference.” Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772-73. “If supported by substantial evidence, the [Commissioner's] determination must stand regardless of whether the reviewing court would resolve the issues of fact in dispute differently.” Bogle v. Sullivan, 998 F.2d 342, 347 (6th Cir. 1993); see Gayheart v. Commissioner, 710 F.3d 365, 374 (6th Cir. 2013) (“A reviewing court will affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on substantial evidence, even if substantial evidence would have supported the opposite conclusion.”). “[T]he Commissioner's decision cannot be overturned if substantial evidence, or even a preponderance of the evidence supports the claimant's position, so long as substantial evidence also supports the conclusion reached by the ALJ.” Jones v. Commissioner, 336 F.3d 469, 477 (6th Cir. 2003); see Kyle v. Commissioner, 609 F.3d 847, 854 (6th Cir. 2010).

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017. (Op. at 3, ECF No. 7-2, PageID.60). Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity on or after August 24, 2012, the alleged onset date. (Id.). Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: lumbar disc displacement, lumbar degenerative disc disease with radiculopathy, cervical spine degenerative disc disease, and obesity. (Id.). Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments which met or equaled the requirements of the listing of impairments. (Id. at 4, PageID.61). The ALJ found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) for a limited range of light work:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), subject to the following limitations. The claimant can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, can stand and/or walk 20 minutes at a time for up to four hours per day, stand/walk four hours total in an eight-hour workday, and can sit 30 minutes at a time up to five hours during an eight-hour workday. His ability to push and/or pull is unlimited, other than as shown for lift and/or carry. Further, the claimant can frequently balance, kneel, crouch and crawl. He can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps and stairs, and occasionally stoop. Finally, the claimant can occasionally tolerate vibrations in the work setting. He can occasionally walk on rough or uneven surfaces, but on such surfaces would require a walking stick or other assistive device. He can have no work at unprotected heights or in the vicinity of unprotected dangerous machinery.

(Op. at 4-5, PageID.61-62). The ALJ found that plaintiff's testimony regarding his subjective limitations was not fully credible. (Id. at 5-8, PageID.62-65). Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 8, PageID.65). He was 36 years old as of the date of alleged onset of his disability and 39 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. Thus, at all times relevant to his claims for DIB and SSI benefits, plaintiff was classified as a younger individual. (Id.).

         The ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE). In response to a hypothetical question regarding a person of plaintiff's age with his RFC, education, and work experience, the VE testified that there were approximately are 467, 000 jobs that exist in the national economy that the hypothetical person would be capable of performing. (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.95-100). The ALJ found that this constituted a significant number of jobs. Using Rule 202.21 of the ...

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