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Huckfeldt v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 27, 2018

Robert Kalin Huckfeldt, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         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 April 22, 2014, plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI benefits. Plaintiff alleged a June 22, 2013, onset of disability. (ECF No. 9-5, PageID.187-97). Plaintiff's claims were denied on initial review. (ECF No. 9-4, PageID.126-33). On September 23, 2015, he received a hearing before an ALJ. (ECF No. 9-2, PageID.66-99). On October 28, 2015, the ALJ issued his decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled. (Op., ECF No. 9-2, PageID.50-61). On September 27, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review (ECF No. 9-2, PageID.33-36), 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. Did the ALJ fail to comply with 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527 in not according adequate weight to the opinion of Mr. Huckfeldt's treating physicians because he failed to consider the various factors set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c) in evaluating the opinion of the treating physicians?
II. Did the ALJ err in failing to find that Mr. Huckfeldt's vestibular disorder, in combination with other impairments, meets and/or equals the criteria of Listing 11.03 and or Listing 11.14 and did the ALJ and the Appeals Council[1] further err in evaluating this case at step 3 of the sequential evaluation process in summarily concluding that “no acceptable medical source has mentioned findings equivalent in severity to the criteria of any listed impairment, individually or in combination, ” when such evidence was in the record and in failing to provide sufficient reasons for discrediting the treating specialist physician's opinion that Listing 11.03 was met or equaled?
III. Did the ALJ violate SSR 96-8p in not explaining how Mr. Huckfeldt's asthma, GERD, lymphoma and obstructive sleep apnea affected his ability to work?

(Plf. Brief at 1, ECF No. 13, PageID.739). I recommend that the Commissioner's decision be vacated and the matter remanded to the Commissioner under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further administrative proceedings.

         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 March 31, 2018. (Op. at 3, ECF No. 9-2, PageID.52). Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity on or after June 22, 2013, the alleged onset date. (Id.). Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: mild traumatic brain injury status-post motorcycle accident, fracture of the left upper extremity, left leg swelling, dizziness, and obesity. (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.53). The ALJ found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) for a range of light work with the following exceptions:

he can only occasionally bend, turn, crouch, stoop, climb, crawl, or kneel. He is unable to walk greater than two city blocks at any given time. He is unable to work around moving machinery or unprotected heights.

(Op. at 4, PageID.53). The ALJ found that plaintiff's testimony regarding his subjective limitations was not fully credible. (Id. at 4-10, PageID.53-59). Plaintiff could not perform any ...

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