United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
Ellen S. Carmody 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. The parties have agreed to proceed
in this Court for all further proceedings, including an order
of final judgment.
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.
The Commissioner has found that Plaintiff is not disabled
within the meaning of the Act. For the reasons stated below,
the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision is
not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the
Commissioner's decision is vacated and this
matter remanded for further administrative action pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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). The 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. See 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
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). 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). As
has 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). 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 44 years of age on her alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.385, 387). She possesses a tenth grade education and
worked previously as a nurse's aide, manufacturer helper,
institutional cook, and home-care attendant. (PageID.147-48).
Plaintiff applied for benefits in early 2014, alleging that
she had been disabled since August 8, 2008, due to
depression, bi-polar disorder, and chronic back pain.
(PageID.385-92, 429). Plaintiff's application was denied,
after which time she requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (PageID.296-383).
March 5, 2015, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ James Prothro
with testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a vocational
expert. (PageID.155-221). In a written decision dated June
12, 2015, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.135-49). The Appeals Council declined to review the
ALJ's determination, rendering it the Commissioner's
final decision in the matter. (PageID.27-33). Plaintiff
subsequently initiated this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of the ALJ's
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, 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); Waltersv.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)
bipolar/depressive disorder; (2) post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD); (3) personality disorder; (4) history of
cannabis/marijuana abuse; (5) degenerative disc disease of
the lumbar spine; and (6) left-sided weakness as a residual
of a cerebrovascular infarction, 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.
respect to Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(RFC), the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retained the ability
to perform a limited range of light work. (PageID.141). A
vocational expert testified that there existed approximately
13, 000 jobs in the state of Michigan which Plaintiff could
perform consistent with her RFC. (PageID.216-18). As this
constitutes a significant number of jobs, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was not ...