United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT (DKT. 18, 19)
Stephanie Dawkins Davis United States Magistrate Judge.
Proceedings in this Court
February 3, 2017, plaintiff Brenda Amr 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 Thomas L. Ludington
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. 4). On April 18, 2017,
the parties filed a notice of consent to this Magistrate
Judge's authority, which was signed by Judge Ludington on
May 15, 2017. (Dkt. 15, 16). This matter is before the Court
on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. 16, 18). A
hearing on the motions was held November 21, 2017. (Dkt. 21).
filed the instant claim for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits on December 9, 2013. (Tr.
The claim was initially disapproved by the Commissioner on
March 4, 2014. (Id.). Plaintiff requested a hearing
and on September 15, 2015, plaintiff appeared with counsel
before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Richard
Sasena, who considered the case de novo. (Id.). In a
decision dated November 17, 2015, the ALJ found that
plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 26). Plaintiff requested a
review of this decision. (Tr. 9). The ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner when the
Appeals Council, on December 19, 2016, denied plaintiff's
request for review. (Tr. 1-5); Wilson v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 543-44 (6th Cir. 2004).
reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion for summary
judgment is DENIED, and Defendant's
motion for summary judgment is GRANTED, and
the findings of the Commissioner are
born in 1961, was 44 years old on the alleged disability
onset date. (Tr. 55). Plaintiff last met the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act on June 30, 2010.
(Tr. 15). Plaintiff has past relevant work as a credit
processor. (Tr. 24). The ALJ applied the five-step disability
analysis and found at step one that plaintiff had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity from her alleged onset date
of January 1, 2006, through her date last insured
(“DLI”) of June 30, 2010. (Id.). At step
two, the ALJ found that plaintiff's arthritis, diabetes
mellitus type 2 (“diabetes”), and chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”) were
“severe” within the meaning of the second
sequential step. (Id.). The ALJ also found several
nonservere impairments, meaning they were found to cause no
more than a minimal limitation of physical or mental ability
to do basic work activities or would not last 12 months,
including: obesity, a fatty liver, hypothyroidism, high blood
pressure, varicose veins, heart condition, vitamin D
insufficiency, carpal tunnel syndrome, hearing loss,
fibromyalgia and degenerative disc disease. (Tr. 16).
However, at step three, the ALJ found no evidence that
plaintiff's impairments, either singly or in combination,
met or medically equaled one of the listings in the
regulations. (Id. at 18).
the ALJ assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) as follows:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that, through the date last insured, the
claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except the
claimant could perform occasional climbing, balancing,
stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. She should have
avoided concentrated exposure to vibrating tools.
The claimant needed to change positions after every 15
minutes or so.
(Id. at 20). At step four, the ALJ found that
plaintiff was able to perform past relevant work as a credit
processor. (Id. at 24). The ALJ thus determined
plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 26).
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.”) (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 without further
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
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 ...