United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT, AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS
BERNARD A. FRIEDMAN SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is presently before the Court on cross motions for
summary judgment [docket entries 16 and 19]. Pursuant to E.D.
Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2), the Court shall decide these motions
without a hearing. For the reasons stated below, the Court
shall grant plaintiff's motion, deny defendant's
motion, and remand the case for further proceedings.
has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to
challenge defendant's final decision denying his
applications for Social Security disability insurance
benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits. An
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing
in October 2016 (Tr. 37-68) and issued a decision denying
benefits in March 2017 (Tr. 16-29). This became
defendant's final decision in June 2017 when the Appeals
Council denied plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-4).
§ 405(g), the issue before the Court is whether the
ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. As
the Sixth Circuit has explained, the Court
must affirm the Commissioner's findings if they are
supported by substantial evidence and the Commissioner
employed the proper legal standard. White, 572 F.3d
at 281 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)); Elam ex rel.
Golay v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th
Cir. 2003); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127
F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (internal quotation marks
omitted); see also Kyle, 609 F.3d at 854 (quoting
Lindsley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601,
604 (6th Cir. 2009)). Where the Commissioner's decision
is supported by substantial evidence, it must be upheld even
if the record might support a contrary conclusion. Smith
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 893 F.2d 106,
108 (6th Cir. 1989). However, a substantiality of evidence
evaluation does not permit a selective reading of the record.
“Substantiality of the evidence must be based upon the
record taken as a whole. Substantial evidence is not simply
some evidence, or even a great deal of evidence. Rather, the
substantiality of evidence must take into account whatever in
the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Garner
v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 388 (6th Cir. 1984) (internal
citations and quotation marks omitted).
Brooks v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 531 F. App'x
636, 640-41 (6th Cir. 2013).
time of the ALJ's decision, plaintiff was 45 years old.
He has a high school education and relevant work experience
as a warehouse worker and forklift operator (Tr. 64, 196,
241). Plaintiff claims he has been disabled since April 2014
due to back pain, nerve damage, anxiety, flashbacks, and PTSD
(Tr. 195). At the hearing, plaintiff also indicated he also
has “constant headaches” (Tr. 47).
found that plaintiff's severe impairments are
“major depressive disorder and post traumatic stress
disorder” and that his back pain (“lumbar spine
anterior spurring and intervertebral osteochondrosis”)
is non-severe (Tr. 21). The ALJ found that plaintiff cannot
perform his past work, but that he has the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited
range of unskilled work. A vocational expert (“VE”)
testified in response to a hypothetical question that a
person of plaintiff's age, education, and work
experience, and who has this RFC, could perform certain
unskilled jobs such as scrap sorter, folder, and inspector
(Tr. 65). The ALJ cited this testimony to support his
conclusion that work exists in significant numbers that
plaintiff could perform (Tr. 28).
reviewed the administrative record and the parties'
briefs, the Court concludes that the ALJ's decision in
this matter is not supported by substantial evidence because
his RFC evaluation of plaintiff is flawed. Since the
hypothetical question incorporated this flawed RFC
evaluation, it failed to describe plaintiff in all relevant
respects and the VE's testimony given in response thereto
cannot be used to carry defendant's burden to prove the
existence of a significant number of jobs plaintiff is
capable of performing.
ALJ's RFC evaluation is flawed for the following reasons.
First, the ALJ failed to consider the side effects of
plaintiff's medications. The record indicates that
plaintiff takes, or at various times has taken, a large
number of medications, including Invega, Lisinopril,
Metoprolol, Neurontin, Tramadol, Vicodin, Lamictal, Paxil,
Norco, Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine), Flomax, Gabapentin, Xanax,
Diazepam, Etodolac, Naproxen, and Lamotrigine (Tr. 198, 237,
337-38, 379, 412, 442, 445, 510-11, 518), several of which
have known side effects. On his function report and at the
hearing plaintiff indicated that he experiences drowsiness as
a medication side effect (Tr. 56, 210).
ALJ's failure to make any findings as to this issue is an
error requiring remand, as the Sixth Circuit has held that
the ALJ must evaluate “[t]he type, dosage,
effectiveness, and side effects of any medication” as
part of the process of determining the extent to which side
effects impair a claimant's capacity to work. Keeton
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 583 F. App'x 515, 532
(6th Cir. 2014) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §
416.929(c)(3)(i)-(vi)). Further, hypothetical questions to
vocational experts must account for medication side effects.
See White v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 312 F.
App'x 779, 789-90 (6th Cir. 2009). On remand, the ALJ
must determine which medications plaintiff was taking during
the relevant time period; make findings as to the nature and
severity of these medications' side effects, if any;
adjust his findings, as appropriate, regarding
plaintiff's RFC; and incorporate these findings in proper
hypothetical questions to the VE.
the RFC evaluation is flawed because the ALJ neglected to
make required findings concerning the effect, if any, of
plaintiff's obesity on his other impairments. The record
contains several notations that plaintiff's body mass
index (“BMI”) is over 30 (see, e.g., Tr.
255, 260, 332, 359, 430), which is the point at which
defendant's regulations consider a person to be obese.
See SSR 02-1p. The ALJ must consider a disability
claimant's obesity at all steps of the sequential
process. See id., Policy Interpretation ¶ 3.
[o]besity is a medically determinable impairment that is
often associated with disturbance of the musculoskeletal
system, and disturbance of this system can be a major cause
of disability in individuals with obesity. The combined
effects of obesity with musculoskeletal impairments can be
greater than the effects of each of the impairments
considered separately. Therefore, when determining whether an
individual with obesity has a listing-level impairment or
combination of impairments, and when assessing a claim at
other steps of the sequential evaluation process, including