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Stachnik v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 26, 2018

Susan M. Stachnik, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Honorable Robert J. Jonker


          PHILLIP J. GREEN United States Magistrate Judge

         This is a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. On November 5 and 6, 2013, plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI benefits. She alleged a January 2, 2013, onset of disability. (ECF No. 7-5, PageID.225-31, 234-40). Plaintiff's claims were denied on initial review. (ECF No. 7-4, PageID.168-75). On September 16, 2015, she received a hearing before an ALJ. (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.72-121). On November 10, 2015, the ALJ issued his decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled. (Op., ECF No. 7-2, PageID.53-65). On November 4, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.40-43), and the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff timely filed a complaint seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner's decision should be overturned on the following grounds:

I. The ALJ's factual finding regarding plaintiff's RFC is not supported by substantial evidence.
II. The ALJ failed to properly assess the factors listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(3).

(Plf. Brief at 1, ECF No. 11, PageID.754). I recommend that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         Standard of Review

          When reviewing the grant or denial of social security benefits, this court is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner correctly applied the law. See Elam ex rel. Golay v. Commissioner, 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th Cir. 2003); Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence is defined as “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Heston v. Commissioner, 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)); see Rogers v. Commissioner, 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). The scope of the court's review is limited. Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772. The court does not review the evidence de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or make credibility determinations. See Ulman v. Commissioner, 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012); Walters v. Commissioner, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). “The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see McClanahan v. Commissioner, 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006). “The findings of the Commissioner are not subject to reversal merely because there exists in the record substantial evidence to support a different conclusion. . . . This is so because there is a ‘zone of choice' within which the Commissioner can act without fear of court interference.” Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772-73. “If supported by substantial evidence, the [Commissioner's] determination must stand regardless of whether the reviewing court would resolve the issues of fact in dispute differently.” Bogle v. Sullivan, 998 F.2d 342, 347 (6th Cir. 1993); see Gayheart v. Commissioner, 710 F.3d 365, 374 (6th Cir. 2013) (“A reviewing court will affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on substantial evidence, even if substantial evidence would have supported the opposite conclusion.”). “[T]he Commissioner's decision cannot be overturned if substantial evidence, or even a preponderance of the evidence supports the claimant's position, so long as substantial evidence also supports the conclusion reached by the ALJ.” Jones v. Commissioner, 336 F.3d 469, 477 (6th Cir. 2003); see Kyle v. Commissioner, 609 F.3d 847, 854 (6th Cir. 2010).

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that plaintiff met the disability insured requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2018. (Op. at 3, ECF No. 7-2, PageID.55). Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity on or after January 2, 2013, the alleged onset date. (Id.). Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease (cervical and lumbar), herniated discs, migraines, depression and anxiety. (Id.). Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the requirements of a listing impairment. (Id. at 4, PageID.56). The ALJ found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) for a limited range of light work with the following limitations:

She could lift and carry on occasion 20 pounds and lift and carry frequently 10 pounds. She could sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour day and stand and/or walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour day. She would be limited to frequent use of hand controls bilaterally. She could frequently climb ramps or stairs, but not climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can frequently balance, occasionally stoop, and occasionally crouch. She cannot kneel or crawl. She could only be exposed to moderate noise levels. She would be limited to occasional reaching bilaterally; occasional reaching overhead bilaterally; occasional bilateral gross manipulation; and occasional bilateral fingering of objects. She would be limited to jobs involving simple, routine tasks that could be learned after a short demonstration or within 30 days.

(Op. at 6, PageID.58). The ALJ found that plaintiff's testimony regarding her subjective limitations was not fully credible. (Id. at 6-11, PageID.58-63). Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 11, PageID.63).

         The ALJ considered the testimony of a vocational expert (VE). In response to a hypothetical question regarding a person of plaintiff's age with her RFC, education, and work experience, the VE testified that there were approximately 112, 000 jobs in the national economy that the hypothetical person would be capable of performing. (ECF No.7-2, PageID.107-12). The ALJ found that this ...

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