United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
SCOTT F. LACEY, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
V. Parker United States District Judge
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT (Dkt. 16, 20)
Stephanie Dawkins Davis, United States Magistrate Judge
Proceedings in this Court
December 15, 2016, plaintiff Scott F. Lacey filed the instant
suit. (Dkt. 1). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and
Local Rule 72.1(b)(3), District Judge Linda V. Parker
referred this matter to the undersigned for the purpose of
reviewing the Commissioner's unfavorable decision denying
plaintiff's claim for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits. (Dkt. 3). This matter is
before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Dkt.
filed the instant claim for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits on April 24, 2014. (Tr.
The claims were initially disapproved by the Commissioner on
June 12, 2014. (Tr. 38). Plaintiff requested a hearing and on
October 20, 2015, plaintiff appeared with counsel before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Ena Weathers,
who considered the case de novo. (Tr. 38). In a
decision dated December 3, 2015, the ALJ found that plaintiff
was not disabled. (Tr. 48). Plaintiff requested a review of
this decision. (Tr. 7). The ALJ's decision became the
final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council,
on November 2, 2016, denied plaintiff's request for
review. (Tr. 1); Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
378 F.3d 541, 543-44 (6th Cir. 2004).
reasons set forth below, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that
plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be GRANTED IN
PART, that defendant's motion for summary judgment be
DENIED IN PART, and that the findings of the Commissioner be
REVERSED AND REMANDED for further proceedings pursuant to
Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
who was born in 1961, was 51 years of age on the alleged
onset of disability (“AOD”) date, and has past
relevant work as a maintenance worker. (Tr. 46). Plaintiff
stopped working as of the AOD, April 29, 2013. The ALJ
applied the five-step disability analysis and found at step
one that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since April 29, 2013. (Tr. 40). At step two, the ALJ
found that plaintiff's osteoarthritis shoulder pain
status post right rotator cuff tear repair, joint pain,
arthritis in his hands, sciatica, anxiety disorder, and
depression were “severe” within the meaning of
the second sequential step. (Id.). However, at step
three, the ALJ found no evidence that any of plaintiff's
impairments alone or in combination met or medically equaled
one of the listings in the regulations. (Tr. 41).
the ALJ assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) as follows:
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) except the claimant can never climb ladders,
ropes or scaffolds; can occasionally stoop and crouch; can
occasionally reach overhead bilaterally; and can frequently
perform fine fingering and handling. The claimant must avoid
concentrated exposure to extreme cold. The claimant is
limited to tasks without strict production demands.
(Tr. 42). At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff was
unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 46). At step
five, the ALJ denied plaintiff benefits because she found
that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that plaintiff could perform.
Standard of Review
enacting the social security system, Congress created a
two-tiered system in which the administrative agency handles
claims, and the judiciary merely reviews the agency
determination for exceeding statutory authority or for being
arbitrary and capricious. Sullivan v. Zebley, 493
U.S. 521 (1990). The administrative process itself is
multifaceted in that a state agency makes an initial
determination that can be appealed first to the agency
itself, then to an ALJ, and finally to the Appeals Council.
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137 (1987). If relief is
not found during this administrative review process, the
claimant may file an action in federal district court.
Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 537 (6th Cir.1986).
Court has original jurisdiction to review the
Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Judicial review under this statute
is limited in that the court “must affirm the
Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that
the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal
standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by
substantial evidence in the record.” Longworth v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir.
2005); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d
525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). In deciding whether substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's decision, “we do 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); Garner
v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). “It
is of course for the ALJ, and not the reviewing court, to
evaluate the credibility of witnesses, including that of the
claimant.” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
486 F.3d 234, 247 (6th Cir. 2007); Jones v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 475 (6th Cir. 2003) (an
“ALJ is not required to accept a claimant's
subjective complaints and may . . . consider the credibility
of a claimant when making a determination of
disability.”); Cruse v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 542 (6th Cir. 2007) (the
“ALJ's credibility determinations about the
claimant are to be given great weight, particularly since the
ALJ is charged with observing the claimant's demeanor and
credibility.”) (internal quotation marks omitted);
Walters, 127 F.3d at 531 (“Discounting
credibility to a certain degree is appropriate where an ALJ
finds contradictions among medical reports, claimant's
testimony, and other evidence.”). “However, the
ALJ is not free to make credibility determinations based
solely upon an ‘intangible or intuitive notion about an
individual's credibility.'” Rogers,
486 F.3d at 247, quoting Soc. Sec. Rul. 96-7p, 1996 WL
supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's
findings of fact are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Therefore, this Court may not reverse the Commissioner's
decision merely because it disagrees or because “there
exists in the record substantial evidence to support a
different conclusion.” McClanahan v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006); Mullen
v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (en
banc). Substantial evidence is “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; Jones, 336 F.3d at 475. “The
substantial evidence standard presupposes that there is a
‘zone of choice' within which the Commissioner may
proceed without interference from the courts.”
Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1035 (6th Cir. 1994)
(citations omitted), citing, Mullen, 800 F.2d at
scope of this Court's review is limited to an examination
of the record only. Bass, 499 F.3d at 512-13;
Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 357 (6th Cir. 2001).
When reviewing the Commissioner's factual findings for
substantial evidence, a reviewing court must consider the
evidence in the record as a whole, including that evidence
which might subtract from its weight. Wyatt v. Sec'y
of Health & Human Servs., 974 F.2d 680, 683 (6th
Cir. 1992). “Both the court of appeals and the district
court may look to any evidence in the record, regardless of
whether it has been cited by the Appeals Council.”
Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 535
(6th Cir. 2001). There is no requirement, however, that
either the ALJ or the reviewing court must discuss every
piece of evidence in the administrative record. Kornecky
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 167 Fed.Appx. 496, 508 (6th
Cir. 2006) (“[a]n ALJ can consider all the evidence
without directly addressing in his written decision every
piece of evidence submitted by a party.”) (internal
citation marks omitted); see also Van Der Maas v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 198 Fed.Appx. 521, 526 (6th
“[c]laimant bears the burden of proving his entitlement
to benefits.” Boyes v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 46 F.3d 510, 512 (6th Cir. 1994);
accord, Bartyzel v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 74 Fed.Appx. 515, 524 (6th Cir. 2003). There are
several benefits programs under the Act, including the
Disability Insurance Benefits Program of Title II (42 U.S.C.
§§ 401 et seq.) and the Supplemental
Security Income Program of Title XVI (42 U.S.C. §§
1381 et seq.). Title II benefits are available to
qualifying wage earners who become disabled prior to the
expiration of their insured status; Title XVI benefits are
available to poverty stricken adults and children who become
disabled. F. Bloch, Federal Disability Law and Practice
§ 1.1 (1984). While the two programs have different
eligibility requirements, “DIB and SSI are available
only for those who have a ‘disability.'”
Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir.
2007). “Disability” means:
inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by
reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment which can be expected to result in death or which
has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period
of not less than 12 months.
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (DIB);
see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a) (SSI).
Commissioner's regulations provide that disability is to
be determined through the application of a five-step
Step One: If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity, benefits are denied ...