United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
Gordon J. Quist, J.
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) under Title II
of the Social Security Act. Section 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 Healthand 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
Healthand 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 Healthand 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 39 years of age on her alleged disability date as well as
the date her insured status expired. (PageID.199, 273, 815).
She successfully completed high school and worked previously
as a stock clerk and shipping clerk. (PageID.830-31).
Plaintiff applied for benefits on September 9, 2010, alleging
that she had been disabled since September 1, 2007, due to
degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis,
bursitis, and irritable bowel disease. (PageID.199-205, 225,
application was denied, after which time she requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
(PageID.134-97). On April 20, 2012, Plaintiff appeared before
ALJ Michael Condon with testimony being offered by Plaintiff
and a vocational expert. (PageID.76-132). In a written
decision dated June 28, 2012, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's
claim. (PageID.60-69). The Appeals Council declined to review
the ALJ's determination, rendering it the
Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.40-44). Plaintiff thereafter initiated legal action
in this Court challenging the denial of her claim for
benefits. On March 31, 2015, the Honorable Gordon J. Quist
reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded this matter for
further administrative action. (PageID.928-40).
August 28, 2015, ALJ Condon conducted another administrative
hearing at which testimony was offered by Plaintiff and a
vocational expert. (PageID.840-922). In a written decision
dated October 9, 2015, ALJ Condon again denied
Plaintiff's application for disability benefits.
(PageID.812-32). The Appeals Council declined to review the
ALJ's determination, rendering it the Commissioner's
final decision in the matter. (PageID.796-802). Plaintiff
subsequently initiated this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of the ALJ's
insured status expired on December 31, 2007. (PageID.815;
see also, 42 U.S.C. § 423(c)(1)). Accordingly,
to be eligible for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must establish that
she became disabled prior to the expiration of her insured
status. See 42 U.S.C. § 423; Moon v.
Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1175, 1182 (6th Cir. 1990).
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 through the date her insured status expired,
Plaintiff suffered from: (1) degenerative disc disease of the
cervical spine; (2) left shoulder impingement and
acromioclavicular arthritis status post arthroscopic surgery;
(3) depression; (4) anxiety; and (5) a personality 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.815-18).
respect to Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, the
ALJ determined that as of the date Plaintiff's insured
status expired, she retained the capacity to perform light
work subject to the following limitations: (1) she could
occasionally lift/carry 20 pounds and frequently lift/carry
10 pounds; (2) during an 8-hour workday, she could sit and
stand/walk for 6 hours each; (3) she could frequently
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps/stairs;
(4) she could occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and
scaffolds; (5) she could occasionally reach overhead with her
left upper extremity; (6) she was limited to the performance
of simple, routine work that involved making simple
work-related decisions; and (7) she was able to tolerate
routine workplace changes. (PageID.818).
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.
OBanner 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 ...