United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
SYLVESTER M. MURRAY, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
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 15 and 18]. 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
application for Supplemental Security Income benefits. An
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing
in August 2016 (Tr. 37-63) and issued a decision denying
benefits in October 2016 (Tr. 13-24). This became
defendant's final decision in June 2017 when the Appeals
Council denied plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-3).
§ 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).
alleged disability onset date, plaintiff was 59 years old. He
has a high school education, two years of college, and work
experience as a minister (Tr. 41). Plaintiff claims he has
been disabled since February 2012 due to a back problem,
hypertension, prostate cancer, and diverticulitis (Tr. 155).
The ALJ found that plaintiff's severe impairments are
“lower back pain with radiculopathy” and
“status post prostate cancer” (Tr. 18). The ALJ
further found that despite these impairments plaintiff is not
disabled because he is able to perform his past work as a
minister, as this work is within plaintiff's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) for a limited range
of light work.
plaintiff's various impairments, the one that is of
potentially disabling severity is his lower back pain with
radiculopathy. Plaintiff testified that he cannot perform his
past work as a minister because this job required him to
stand for several hours at a time (Tr. 60-61), but he now can
stand only “about 30, 40 minutes” at a time (Tr.
medical evidence regarding plaintiff's back impairment is
summarized in the ALJ's decision (Tr. 20-22), and it need
not be repeated here at length. In short, the evidence shows
abnormalities in plaintiff's lumbar spine that could
cause pain and numbness in plaintiff's lower back and
right leg. An MRI of plaintiff's lumbar spine in August
2013 showed “[d]egenerative changes of the facet joints
and bulging disc L4-L5 with mild compression to the thecal
sac and compressing the proximal L5 nerve roots
bilaterally” and “[b]road-based bulging disc and
degenerative changes of the facet joints at ¶ 5-S1 . . .
[with] some compression to the proximal S1 nerve root on the
left” (Tr. 296). And EMG four months earlier showed
“chronic, mild bilateral L5 radiculopathy” (Tr.
296). Plaintiff was diagnosed with “[r]adiculopathy
lumbar L4-5, L5 S1 distribution” and “Lumbar
Sponsylosis” (Tr. 296).
of plaintiff's lumbar spine in April 2016 was interpreted
L4-5: Left greater than right facet degeneration is stable
with unroofing of the disc space and anterolisthesis causing
slight flattening of the thecal sac and minor left lateral
recess stenosis which has worsened in the interval. There is
moderate right greater than left foraminal narrowing which is
L5-S1: Stable bilateral facet degenerative change with
broad-based disc bulge and a left paracentral protrusion
component which is abutting and mildly flattening the
descending left L1 nerve root to a greater degree. There is
no canal or right lateral recess narrowing. There is no
the record contains a great deal of medical evidence in the
form of office notes and test results, none of the nurses or
physicians who have treated plaintiff have expressed an
opinion as to his functional limitations. Nor did defendant
obtain such an opinion from an examining or non-examining
consulting physician. Plaintiff argues that under these
circumstances the case must be remanded because the ALJ may
not make his own findings regarding functional limitations,
as the ALJ is not a medical expert and he is not in a
position to interpret raw medical data. Defendant disagrees,
arguing that it is the ALJ's responsibility to determine
plaintiff's RFC and “an ALJ is not required to seek