United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
PATRICIA A. SEILER, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
Corbett O'Meara District Judge.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO DENY PLAINTIFF'S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DE 14) AND GRANT DEFENDANT'S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DE 18)
Anthony P. Patti UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
RECOMMENDATION: For the reasons that follow, it is
RECOMMENDED that the Court
DENY Plaintiff's motion for summary
judgment (DE 14), GRANT Defendant's
motion for summary judgment (DE 18), and
AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.
Patricia A. Seiler, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her
application for social security disability insurance (DI)
benefits. This matter is before the United States Magistrate
Judge for a Report and Recommendation on Plaintiff's
motion for summary judgment (DE 14), the Commissioner's
cross motion for summary judgment (DE 18), and the
administrative record (DE 12).
filed her application for DI benefits on September 26, 2013,
alleging that she has been disabled since January 1, 2012.
(R. at 130-37.) Plaintiff's application was denied, and
she sought a de novo hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. at 75,
86-89.) ALJ Patricia S. McKay held a hearing on May 11, 2015
─ at which Plaintiff was represented by counsel. (R. at
27-74.) The ALJ considered all of the evidence and determined
that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the
Social Security Act. (R. at 10-22.) On August 17, 2016, the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.
(R. at 1-5.) Thus, ALJ McKay's decision became the
Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff then timely
commenced the instant action on October 3, 2016. (DE 1.)
Plaintiff's Medical History
combined medical records span the period from September 30,
2011 through May 19, 2015. (R. at 201-452.) The 251 pages of
medical records are mostly comprised of hospital and
treatment records and diagnostic tests, and include a January
18, 2014 consultative examination by Dr. Alexander Lund.
These records will be discussed in relevant part as necessary
and vocational expert Kelly Stroker testified at the August
27, 2015 hearing before ALJ McKay. (See R. at
27-74.) The hearing testimony will be discussed as necessary
The Administrative Decision
September 12, 2015, ALJ McKay issued an
“unfavorable” decision. At Step
1 of the sequential evaluation process,
ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date of January 1,
2012. (R. at 15.) At Step 2, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff has severe pulmonary and orthopedic
impairments, which are discussed in detail below. (R. at
15-17.) At Step 3, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments. (R. at 17.) Prior to
Step 4 of the sequential process, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform sedentary work … except that she: is limited
to occasional climbing of stairs, crouching, crawling,
kneeling, stooping/bending; must avoid workplace hazards such
as moving machinery, unprotected heights, and climbing
ladders, ropes, and scaffolding; and must avoid continuous
exposure to pulmonary irritants.
17-21.) At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a
legal secretary, as it is generally performed, and that she
therefore is not disabled. (R. at 21-22.)
Standard of Review
District Court has jurisdiction to review the
Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). When reviewing a case under the
Social Security Act, the Court “must affirm the
Commissioner's decision if it ‘is supported by
substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal
standards.'” Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. at 2009) (quoting
Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241
(6th Cir. at 2007)); see also 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) (“[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social
Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”). Under this
standard, “substantial evidence is defined as
‘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.'” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241
(quoting Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994)). In deciding
whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision,
the court does “not try the case de novo,
resolve conflicts in evidence or decide questions of
credibility.” Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506,
509 (6th Cir. 2007); Rogers, 486 F.3d at 247
(“It is of course for the ALJ, and not the reviewing
court, to evaluate the credibility of witnesses, including
that of the claimant.”). Furthermore, the claimant
“has the ultimate burden to establish an entitlement to
benefits by proving the existence of a disability.”
Moon v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1175, 1181 (6th Cir.
the substantial evidence standard is deferential, it is not
trivial. The Court must “‘take into account
whatever in the record fairly detracts from [the]
weight'” of the Commissioner's decision.
TNS, Inc. v. NLRB, 296 F.3d 384, 395 (6th Cir. 2002)
(quoting Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S.
474, 487 (1951)). Nevertheless, “if substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's decision, this Court defers
to that finding ‘even if there is substantial evidence
in the record that would have supported an opposite
conclusion.'” Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (quoting Key v.
Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)); see
also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”).
Finally, even if the ALJ's decision meets the substantial
evidence standard, “‘a decision of the
Commissioner will not be upheld where the SSA fails to follow
its own regulations and where that error prejudices a
claimant on the merits or deprives the claimant of a
substantial right.'” Rabbers, 582 F.3d at
651 (quoting Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478
F.3d 742, 746 (6th Cir. 2007)).
raises three issues. First, she argues that “the ALJ
erred when she failed to find that Plaintiff's depression
and anxiety were severe impairments in her Step Two
analysis.” (DE 14 at 16-20.) Second, she contends that
“the ALJ failed to create an accurate RFC assessment
and therefore erroneously found work at Steps Four and
Five.” (Id. at 20-23.) Third, she alleges that