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Wenrich v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 24, 2018

THOMAS WENRICH, Plaintiff
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant(s).

          ROBERT H. CLELAND UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. 13, 16)

          STEPHANIE DAWKINS DAVIS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         A. Proceedings in this Court

         On September 23, 2016, plaintiff filed the instant suit seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision disallowing social security disability benefits. (Dkt. 1). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72.1(b)(3), District Judge Robert H. Cleland referred this matter to the undersigned for the purpose of reviewing the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's disability claim. (Dkt. 2). This matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. 13, 16). Plaintiff also filed a reply in support her motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. 21). The cross-motions are now ready for report and recommendation.

         B. Administrative Proceedings

         Plaintiff filed the instant claim for supplemental security income on September 30, 2013, alleging disability beginning January 3, 2013. (Tr. 20).[1]Plaintiff's claim is based on the combined effects of bi-polar disorder with manic episodes, anxiety/depression and suicidal ideation. The claim was initially disapproved by the Commissioner on October 14, 2013. Id. Plaintiff requested a hearing, and on January 28, 2016, he appeared before ALJ Patricia E. Hurt who considered the case de novo. (Tr. 37-112). In a decision dated May 3, 2016, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 17-31). Plaintiff requested a review of this decision and on July 27, 2016, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when, after the review of additional exhibits, [2] 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 AFFIRMED.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1967 and was 46 years old on the application date. (Tr. 30). Plaintiff has no past relevant work history. (Tr. 30). 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 alleged onset date. (Tr. 22). At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff's bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anti-social personality disorder, and cannabis abuse were severe impairments. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a Listing. (Tr. 23-25). The ALJ determined that plaintiff had the following residual functional capacity (RFC):

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: he is limited to performing only simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. He cannot perform tasks at a production rate pace, meaning he cannot perform assembly line work. He can make only simple work-related decisions. He can interact frequently with supervisors, occasionally with coworkers, and never with the public. He can tolerate few changes in the routine work setting, meaning he must work in the same place doing the same thing every day, any any changes to his work setting must be minimal and introduced gradually over time.

(Tr. 25). At step four, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had no past relevant work. (Tr. 30). At step five, the ALJ denied plaintiff benefits because plaintiff could perform a significant number of jobs available in the national economy. (Tr. 30-31).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         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). “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 374186, *4.

         If 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 545.

         The Commissioner's regulations provide that disability is to be determined through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:

Step One: If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Two: If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, that “significantly limits ... physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, ” benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Three: If plaintiff is not performing substantial gainful activity, has a severe impairment that is expected to last for at least twelve months, and the severe impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the regulations, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled regardless of age, education or work experience.
Step Four: If the claimant is able to perform his or her past relevant work, benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Five: Even if the claimant is unable to perform his or her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that plaintiff can perform, in view of his or her age, education, and work experience, benefits are denied.

Carpenter v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2008 WL 4793424 (E.D. Mich. 2008), citing, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Heston, 245 F.3d at 534. “If the Commissioner makes a dispositive finding at any point in the five-step process, the ...


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