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Norris v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

February 20, 2018

ANDY J. NORRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DISTRICT JUDGE ROBERT H. CLELAND

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Docs. 14, 17)

          Patricia T. Morris United States Magistrate Judge

         I. REPORT

         A. Introduction and Procedural History

         This is an action for judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Andy Norris's claim for disability benefits under the Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) program of Title II, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., and Supplemental Security Income Benefits (“SSI”) under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. (Doc. 1). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), E.D. Mich. LR 72.1(b)(3), and by Notice of Reference, this case was referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. (Doc. 4). The matter is currently before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 14, 17).

         Plaintiff was born on October 25, 1963, making him 41 years old on the alleged onset date of January 1, 2005. (Doc. 14 at ¶ 316-17). He was last insured on June 30, 2009. (Tr. 58). Plaintiff filed both a DIB and an SSI claim in February 2014 (Tr. 120-25, 126-32).[1] Although the parties agree that Plaintiff's DIB claim was denied on May 28, 2014, (Doc. 14 at ¶ 316); (Doc. 17 at ¶ 340, n.4); (Tr. 73-76), the date on which Plaintiff's SSI claim was denied is another matter. Based on Plaintiff's recitation of the case's procedural history, he seems to believe the initial denial of his SSI application fell on the same date as that of his DIB application: May 28, 2014. (Doc. 14 at ¶ 316). He offers no citation to the record in support of this contention; in fact, the record does not include any evidence that an initial decision was ever rendered on his SSI claim. Defendant, on the other hand, asserts that Plaintiff's SSI claim was denied on April 8, 2014, (Doc. 17 at ¶ 339), and attaches as proof a copy of a Notice of Disapproved Claim that does not appear in the administrative record. (Doc. 17, Ex. A).

         Regardless, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing on June 27, 2014, (Tr. 77-78), and an administrative hearing on his DIB claim was held on October 15, 2015, before ALJ Ena Weathers. (Tr. 32-57). On November 19, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff had not been disabled between his alleged onset date and his date last insured-in other words, as both parties agree, the ALJ ruled only on Plaintiff's DIB claim. (Tr. 14-27). Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of that decision, which the Appeals Council denied. (Tr. 1-6). This action followed.

         B. Standard of Review

         The district court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The district court's review is restricted to determining whether the “Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.” Sullivan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 595 F. App'x 502, 506 (6th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted). 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 v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal quotations omitted).

         The Court must examine the administrative record as a whole, and may consider any evidence in the record, regardless of whether it has been cited by the ALJ. See Walker v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 884 F.2d 241, 245 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court will not “try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, “it must be affirmed even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently and even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion.” Id. at 286 (internal citations omitted).

         C. Framework for Disability Determinations

         Under the Act, “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 the 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 [twelve] months.

42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (DIB); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a) (SSI). The Commissioner's regulations provide that disability is to be determined through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:

(i) At the first step, we consider your work activity, if any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will find that you are not disabled. . . .
(ii) At the second step, we consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you do not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that meets the duration requirement . . . or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are not disabled. . . .
(iii) At the third step, we also consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you have an impairment(s) that meets or equals one of our listings in appendix 1 of this subpart and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are disabled. . . .
(iv) At the fourth step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your past relevant work. If you can still do your past relevant work, we will find that you are not disabled. . . .
(v) At the fifth and last step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your age, education, and work experience to see if you can make an adjustment to other work. If you can make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are not disabled. If you cannot make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are disabled.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. See also Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001). “Through step four, the claimant bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by [his or] her impairments and the fact that [he or] she is precluded from performing her past relevant work.” Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). A claimant must establish a medically determinable physical or mental impairment (expected to last at least twelve months or result in death) that rendered him unable to engage in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The burden transfers to the Commissioner if the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that the claimant is not disabled. Combs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 643 (6th Cir. 2006). At the fifth step, the Commissioner is required to show that “other jobs in significant numbers exist in the national economy that [the claimant] could perform given her RFC [residual functional capacity] and considering relevant vocational factors.” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), (g)).

         D. ALJ Findings

         Following the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act between his original alleged onset date of January 1, 2005, and his last insured date of June 30, 2009. (Tr. 14-27). To begin, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the relevant period. (Tr. 19). Next, the ALJ determined that through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: back, hip, and leg pain; headache; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); and obesity. (Tr. 20). The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any listed impairment. (Tr. 20-21). As for Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), the ALJ concluded that through Plaintiff's date last insured, he had the RFC

To perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps or stairs; and can occasionally stoop, crouch, and crawl; the claimant can perform tasks without strict production demands; avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, gases, dusts, pollutants and vibration; and, the claimant needs the ability to change from standing to seated position or vice versa for 1-2 minutes every hour to two hours without interference with work product.

(Tr. 21). Finally, the ALJ found that through the date last insured, Plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work as a pastor-and that, in the alternative, other jobs existed in significant numbers in the national ...


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