United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
PAUL L. MALONEY JUDGE.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
S. CARMODY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's
claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of
the Social Security Act.
405(g) limits the Court to a review of the administrative
record, and provides that if the Commissioner's decision
is supported by substantial evidence, it shall be conclusive.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), authorizing United
States Magistrate Judges to submit proposed findings of fact
and recommendations for disposition of social security
appeals, the undersigned recommends that the
Commissioner's decision be affirmed.
Court's jurisdiction is confined to a review of the
Commissioner's decision and of the record made in the
administrative hearing process. See Willbanks v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 847 F.2d 301,
303 (6th Cir. 1988). The scope of judicial review in a social
security case is limited to determining whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in making her
decision and whether there exists in the record substantial
evidence supporting that decision. See Brainard v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 889 F.2d 679,
681 (6th Cir. 1989).
Court may not conduct a de novo review of the case, resolve
evidentiary conflicts, or decide questions of credibility.
See Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir.
1984). It is the Commissioner who is charged with finding the
facts relevant to an application for disability benefits, and
her findings are conclusive provided they are supported by
substantial evidence. See42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than
a preponderance. See Cohen v. Sec'y of Dep't of
Health and Human Services, 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir.
1992) (citations omitted). It is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
401 (1971); Bogle v. Sullivan, 998 F.2d 342, 347
(6th Cir. 1993). In determining the substantiality of the
evidence, the Court must consider the evidence on the record
as a whole and take into account whatever in the record
fairly detracts from its weight. See Richardson v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 735 F.2d 962,
963 (6th Cir. 1984).
been widely recognized, the substantial evidence standard
presupposes the existence of a zone within which the decision
maker can properly rule either way, without judicial
interference. See Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545
(6th Cir. 1986) (citation omitted). This standard affords to
the administrative decision maker considerable latitude, and
indicates that a decision supported by substantial evidence
will not be reversed simply because the evidence would have
supported a contrary decision. See Bogle, 998 F.2d
at 347; Mullen, 800 F.2d at 545.
was 47 years of age on her alleged disability date.
(PageID.69). She successfully completed high school and
worked previously as a housekeeper and security officer.
(PageID.55). Plaintiff applied for benefits on June 17, 2013,
alleging that she had been disabled since May 5, 2013, due to
cervical dystonia, degenerative disc disease, arthritis,
nerve damage, fibromyalgia, agoraphobia, and depression.
applications were denied, after which time she requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
(PageID.104-21, 226-69). On September 2, 2015, Plaintiff
appeared before ALJ Bryce Baird with testimony being offered
by Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (PageID.172-225). In a
written decision dated December 14, 2015, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff's claim. (PageID.45-57). The Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's determination, rendering it
the Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.35-39). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review
of the ALJ's decision.
OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R.
'' 404.1520(a-f), 416.920(a-f). If the
Commissioner can make a dispositive finding at any point in
the review, no further finding is required. See 20
C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The regulations
also provide that if a claimant suffers from a nonexertional
impairment as well as an exertional impairment, both are
considered in determining her residual functional capacity.
See 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1545, 416.945.
burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely
on Plaintiff's shoulders, and she can satisfy her burden
by demonstrating that her impairments are so severe that she
is unable to perform her previous work, and cannot,
considering her age, education, and work experience, perform
any other substantial gainful employment existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. See 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Cohen, 964 F.2d at 528.
While the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step
five of the sequential evaluation process, Plaintiff bears
the burden of proof through step four of the procedure, the
point at which her residual functioning capacity (RFC) is
determined. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146
n.5 (1987); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127
F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997) (ALJ determines RFC at step
four, at which point claimant bears the burden of proof).
determined that Plaintiff suffered from: (1) fibromyalgia;
(2) cervical dystonia; (3) degenerative disc disease; (4)
anxiety disorder; and (5) personality and posttraumatic
stress disorder, severe impairments that whether considered
alone or in combination with other impairments, failed to
satisfy the requirements of any impairment identified in the
Listing of Impairments detailed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. (PageID.47-50).
respect to Plaintiffs residual functional capacity, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform
light work subject to the following limitations: (1) she can
occasionally lift/carry 20 pounds and frequently lift/carry
10 pounds; (2) during an 8-hour workday, she can sit for six
hours and stand/walk for two hours; (3) she requires the
option to alternate to standing from sitting for five minutes
after every 30 minutes of sitting; (4) she can never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and can only occasionally climb
ramps and stairs; (5) she can occasionally balance and stoop,
but can never kneel, crouch, or crawl; (6) she is limited to
simple, routine tasks; and (7) she can have occasional
interaction with the public and co-workers. (PageID.50).
found that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant
work at which point the burden of proof shifted to the
Commissioner to establish by substantial evidence that a
significant number of jobs exist in the national economy
which Plaintiff could perform, her limitations
notwithstanding. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964.
While the ALJ is not required to question a vocational expert
on this issue, Aa finding supported by substantial evidence
that a claimant has the vocational qualifications to perform
specific jobs" is needed to meet the burden.
O Banner v. Secy of Health and Human Services, 587
F.2d 321, 323 (6th Cir. 1978) (emphasis added). This standard
requires more than mere intuition or conjecture by the ALJ
that the claimant can perform specific jobs in the national
economy. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964.
Accordingly, ALJs routinely question vocational experts in an
attempt to determine whether there exist a significant number
of jobs which a particular claimant can perform, her
limitations notwithstanding. Such was the case here, as the
ALJ questioned a vocational expert.
vocational expert testified that there existed approximately
225, 000 jobs in the national economy which an individual
with Plaintiff's RFC could perform, such limitations
notwithstanding. (PageID.213-18). This represents a
significant number of jobs. See Born v. Sec' y of
Health and Human Services, 923 F.2d 1168, 1174 (6th Cir.
1990); Hall v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 272, 274 (6th Cir.
1988); Martin v. Commissioner of Social Security,