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Nattress v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 21, 2018


          Linda V. Parker United States District Judge


          Stephanie Dawkins Davis United State Magistrate Judge


         A. Proceedings in this Court

         On November 9, 2016, plaintiff filed the instant suit seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's unfavorable decision disallowing benefits. (Dkt. 1). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72.1(b)(3), this matter was referred to the undersigned for the purpose of reviewing the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's claim disability benefits. (Dkt. 2). This matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. 11, 13). Plaintiff also filed a reply in support of her motion. (Dkt. 14).

         B. Administrative Proceedings

         Plaintiff filed the instant claim for supplemental security income on October 23, 2013, alleging that she became disabled on April 1, 1998. (Tr. 13). The claims were initially disapproved by the Commissioner on February 25, 2014. Id. Plaintiff requested a hearing and on July 28, 2015, plaintiff appeared with counsel before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Martha M. Gasparovich, who considered the case de novo. (Tr. 31-63). In a decision dated September 9, 2015, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 10-27). Plaintiff requested a review of this decision and on September 9, 2016, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when, after the review of additional exhibits, [1] the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-6); Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 543-44 (6th Cir. 2004).

         For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be DENIED, that defendant's motion for summary judgment be GRANTED, and that the findings of the Commissioner be



         Plaintiff was born in 1976 and was 37 years old on the date the disability application was filed. (Tr. 25). Plaintiff has no past relevant work. Id. The ALJ applied the five-step disability analysis to plaintiff's claim and found at step one that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date. (Tr. 15). At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff's history of psuedotumor cerebri, status-post thoracotomy, status-post acute respiratory failure, asthmatic bronchitis, diabetes mellitus, type II, osteoarthritis - bilateral knees, morbid obesity, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and history of opiate dependence were “severe” within the meaning of the second sequential step. (Tr. 15). At step three, the ALJ found no evidence that plaintiff's combination of impairments met or equaled one of the listings in the regulations. (Tr. 15-16). At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff had no past relevant work. (Tr. 25). The ALJ concluded that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of light work as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except that she is unable to stand and walk more than four hours in an eight-hour workday; sitting would be unlimited; could lift no more than 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; could only stoop, climb, balance, crouch, squat, crawl, or kneel occasionally; must avoid all hazards such as moving machinery and unprotected heights; would need a clean air environment free from concentrated levels of dust, fumes, gases, chemicals, and other airborne irritants; would be limited to simple, routine, one to three step tasks in a low stress environment defined as no quick decision making and no quick judgment required on the job; no interaction with the public and only occasional interaction with supervisors or co-workers; and would be unable to perform jobs that are fast pace, high production, or frequent changes in task expectations or locations.

(Tr. 18). At step five, the ALJ denied plaintiff benefits because plaintiff could perform a significant number of jobs available in the national economy. (Tr. 26-27).


         A. Standard of Review

         In 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).

         This 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.”) (quotation marks omitted); Walters, 127 F.3d at 531 ...

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