United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
S. CARMODY U.S. Magistrate Judge.
an action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's
claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of
the Social Security Act. The parties have agreed to proceed
in this Court for all further proceedings, including an order
of final judgment.
405(g) limits the Court to a review of the administrative
record and provides that if the Commissioner's decision
is supported by substantial evidence it shall be conclusive.
The Commissioner has found that Plaintiff is not disabled
within the meaning of the Act. For the reasons stated below,
the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the
Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
Court's jurisdiction is confined to a review of the
Commissioner's decision and of the record made in the
administrative hearing process. See Willbanks v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 847 F.2d 301,
303 (6th Cir. 1988). The scope of judicial review in a social
security case is limited to determining whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in making her
decision and whether there exists in the record substantial
evidence supporting that decision. See Brainard v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 889 F.2d 679,
681 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court may not conduct a de novo
review of the case, resolve evidentiary conflicts, or decide
questions of credibility. See Garner v. Heckler, 745
F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). It is the Commissioner who is
charged with finding the facts relevant to an application for
disability benefits, and her findings are conclusive provided
they are supported by substantial evidence. See 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance. See Cohen v. Sec'y of Dep't of
Health and Human Services, 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir.
1992). It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. See
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
Bogle v. Sullivan, 998 F.2d 342, 347 (6th Cir.
1993). In determining the substantiality of the evidence, the
Court must consider the evidence on the record as a whole and
take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from
its weight. See Richardson v. Sec'y of Health and
Human Services, 735 F.2d 962, 963 (6th Cir. 1984). As
has been widely recognized, the substantial evidence standard
presupposes the existence of a zone within which the decision
maker can properly rule either way, without judicial
interference. See Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545
(6th Cir. 1986). This standard affords to the administrative
decision maker considerable latitude, and indicates that a
decision supported by substantial evidence will not be
reversed simply because the evidence would have supported a
contrary decision. See Bogle, 998 F.2d at 347;
Mullen, 800 F.2d at 545.
was 40 years of age on her alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.298, 319). She possesses a ninth grade education and
has no past relevant work experience. (PageID.74, 138).
Plaintiff applied for benefits on October 8, 2013, alleging
that she had been disabled since June 20, 2013, due to
lymphoma of her lower spine, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid
arthritis, osteoarthritis, “cervical lumbar, ”
depression, anxiety, stress, and high blood pressure.
(PageID.298-308, 319, 329). Plaintiff's application was
denied, after which time she requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (PageID.151-296).
August 31, 2015, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Howard
Kauffman with testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a
vocational expert. (PageID.100-149). On December 10, 2015,
the ALJ held a supplemental hearing at which a vocational
expert testified. (PageID.81-99). In a written decision dated
December 24, 2015, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not
disabled. (PageID.61-75). The Appeals Council declined to
review the ALJ's determination, rendering it the
Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.25-30). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this appeal
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review
of the ALJ's decision.
OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a-f), 416.920(a-f). If the
Commissioner can make a dispositive finding at any point in
the review, no further finding is required. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The regulations
also provide that if a claimant suffers from a nonexertional
impairment as well as an exertional impairment, both are
considered in determining her residual functional capacity.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545, 416.945.
burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely
on Plaintiff's shoulders, and she can satisfy her burden
by demonstrating that her impairments are so severe that she
is unable to perform her previous work, and cannot,
considering her age, education, and work experience, perform
any other substantial gainful employment existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. See 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Cohen, 964 F.2d at 528.
While the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step
five, Plaintiff bears the burden of proof through step four
of the procedure, the point at which her residual functioning
capacity (RFC) is determined. See Bowen v. Yuckert,
482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); Walters v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997) (ALJ
determines RFC at step four, at which point claimant bears
the burden of proof).
determined that Plaintiff suffered from: (1) degenerative
arthritis of the cervical and lumbar spines; (2) fibrolipoma
status post surgery; (3) obesity; (4) fibromyalgia; (5)
depression; and (6) anxiety, severe impairments that whether
considered alone or in combination with other impairments,
failed to satisfy the requirements of any impairment
identified in the Listing of Impairments detailed in 20
C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (PageID.64-67).
respect to Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the capacity to
perform light work subject to the following limitations: (1)
she cannot work in any position for longer than 60 minutes
without being allowed to assume a different position for five
minutes; (2) she must be permitted to use a cane in her
non-dominant hand when standing and walking; (3) she can
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs; (4) she can only
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; (5) she
can perform frequent, but not constant, fine and gross
manipulation activities with her hands; (6) she cannot work
at unprotected heights, around exposed flames, or around
large bodies of water; (7) she must avoid concentrated
exposure to unguarded, hazardous machinery; (8) she is
limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks and work
that involves no more than simple decision-making, occasional
and minor changes in the work setting, and exercise of simple