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Zevenbergen-Ortiz v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 26, 2018

BRITTANY MARIE ZEVENBERGEN-ORTIZ, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant,

          OPINION

          RAY KENT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (Commissioner) which issued a partially favorable decision for disability insurance benefits (DIB) claim.

         Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of September 15, 2012 when she was involved in a motor vehicle accident. PageID.49, 233. Plaintiff identified her disabling conditions as: blind; left knee injury; left arm injury; and right foot injury. PageID.237. Prior to applying for DIB, plaintiff completed the 12th grade and had past employment as a call center representative, customer service representative, and receptionist. PageID.238. An administrative law judge (ALJ) reviewed plaintiff's claim de novo and entered a partially favorable written decision on January 27, 2016. PageID.44-55. In this decision, the ALJ found that plaintiff was under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, from September 15, 2012 through October 8, 2015. PageID.48. Plaintiff contests the ALJ's finding that her disability ended on October 8, 2015. This decision, which was later approved by the Appeals Council, has become the final decision of the Commissioner and is now before the Court for review.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         This Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is typically focused on determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); McKnight v. Sullivan, 927 F.2d 241 (6th Cir. 1990). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Cutlip v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). A determination of substantiality of the evidence must be based upon the record taken as a whole. Young v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 925 F.2d 146 (6th Cir. 1990).

         The scope of this review is limited to an examination of the record only. This Court does not review the evidence de novo, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Brainard v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989). The fact that the record also contains evidence which would have supported a different conclusion does not undermine the Commissioner's decision so long as there is substantial support for that decision in the record. Willbanks v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 847 F.2d 301, 303 (6th Cir. 1988). Even if the reviewing court would resolve the dispute differently, the Commissioner's decision must stand if it is supported by substantial evidence. Young, 925 F.2d at 147.

         A claimant must prove that he suffers from a disability in order to be entitled to benefits. A disability is established by showing that the claimant cannot engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505; Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 1990). In applying the above standard, the Commissioner has developed a five-step analysis:

The Social Security Act requires the Secretary to follow a “five-step sequential process” for claims of disability. First, plaintiff must demonstrate that she is not currently engaged in “substantial gainful activity” at the time she seeks disability benefits. Second, plaintiff must show that she suffers from a “severe impairment” in order to warrant a finding of disability. A “severe impairment” is one which “significantly limits . . . physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” Third, if plaintiff is not performing substantial gainful activity, has a severe impairment that is expected to last for at least twelve months, and the impairment meets a listed impairment, plaintiff is presumed to be disabled regardless of age, education or work experience. Fourth, if the plaintiff's impairment does not prevent her from doing her past relevant work, plaintiff is not disabled. For the fifth and final step, even if the plaintiff's impairment does prevent her from doing her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that plaintiff can perform, plaintiff is not disabled.

Heston v. Commissioner of Social Security, 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted).

         The claimant bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by her impairments and the fact that she is precluded from performing her past relevant work through step four. Jones v. Commissioner of Social Security, 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). However, at step five of the inquiry, “the burden shifts to the Commissioner to identify a significant number of jobs in the economy that accommodate the claimant's residual functional capacity (determined at step four) and vocational profile.” Id. If it is determined that a claimant is or is not disabled at any point in the evaluation process, further review is not necessary. Mullis v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 991, 993 (6th Cir. 1988).

         II. ALJ's DECISION

         A. Plaintiff's condition from September 15, 2012 through October 8, 2015

         At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 15, 2012, the date she became disabled, and that she meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2025. PageID.47.

         At step two, the ALJ found that from September 15, 2012 through October 8, 2015, the period during which the claimant was under a disability, the claimant had the following severe impairments: status post left knee dislocation with knee reconstruction and ligament and tendon repair surgeries; status post surgical repair of 1ight foot tendon lacerations; status post closed reduction of right metatarsal fracture; status post small bowel resection surgery and repair; status post right pelvic superior rami fracture; status post scapula fracture; brachial plexopathy on the left side; blindness in the right eye; and obesity. PageID.48. At step three, the ALJ found that from September 15, 2012 through October 8, 2015, plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the requirements of the Listing of Impairments in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. PageID.48.

         The ALJ decided at the fourth step that:

[F]rom September 15, 2012 through October 8, 2015, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform a range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) that includes an ability to lift, carry, push, or pull 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; but can only lift 2 pounds with her non-dominant left upper extremity alone; stand or walk for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday; sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; may only occasionally perform fine manipulation with her left upper extremity, but has no limitations with fine manipulation with her 1ight upper extremity; and ...

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