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Heath v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 28, 2018

Tina Louise Heath, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Honorable Janet T. Neff 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 October 22, 2013, plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI benefits. Plaintiff alleged an August 31, 2011, onset of disability. (ECF No. 7-5, PageID.209-16). Plaintiff's claims were denied on initial review. (ECF No. 7-4, PageID.138-45). On April 16, 2015, she received a hearing before an ALJ. (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.66-117). On October 8, 2015, the ALJ issued his decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled. (Op., ECF No. 7-2, PageID.45-61). On November 30, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.32-35), 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 failed to give proper weight to the findings and opinion of plaintiff's treating physician, as required by 20 C.F.R §§ 404.1527(c), 416.927(c). Had he given Dr. Vega's opinions proper weight, plaintiff would have been limited to less than sedentary work and found disabled.
II. The ALJ's findings regarding plaintiff's RFC are not supported by substantial evidence.
1. The ALJ did not use the proper standards in addressing Dr. Vega's opinion or third party evidence from Amy Vincent, as required by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c), 416.927(c), and SSR 06-3p.
2. The ALJ rejected all the medical opinions and there is no medical opinion that supports the RFC finding.
3. The ALJ impermissibly interpreted raw medical data in reaching his RFC findings.
4. The ALJ did not follow the applicable law when he addressed plaintiff's allegations of pain and his credibility findings are not supported by substantial evidence.

(Plf. Brief at iii, ECF No. 11, PageID.516). 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 December 31, 2016. (Op. at 3, ECF No. 7-2, PageID.47). Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity on or after August 31, 2011, the alleged onset date. (Id.). Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “Type II diabetes mellitus without complication, polyarthritic arthralgias, rheumatoid arthritis, tenosynovitis, status post-stroke with mild residuals of right sided weakness, obesity, and depression.” (Id.). Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the requirements of a listing impairment. The ALJ found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) for a range of light work with the following exceptions:

she can perform occasional climbing and balancing. She is limited to frequent handling, fingering, pushing and pulling with the upper extremities. She is limited to simple work. She would not be able to do any fast-paced work.

(Op. at 7, PageID.51). The ALJ found that plaintiff's testimony regarding her subjective limitations was not fully credible. (Id. at 7-13, PageID.51-57). Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 15, PageID.59).

         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 52, 000 jobs that exist in the Michigan economy that the hypothetical person would be capable of performing. (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.110-11). The ALJ found that this constituted a significant number of jobs and found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Op. at 16-17, PageID.60-61).



         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to give proper weight to the findings and opinion of Louis Vega, M.D., a treating physician, and that the ALJ did not use proper standards in addressing the opinions of Dr. Vega and Ms. Amy Vincent as required by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c), 416.927(c) and SSR 06-3p. (Plf. Brief at iii, 8-14, ECF No. 11, ...

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