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Hodgemire v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 28, 2018

RONALD LEE HODGEMIRE, JR., 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 denied his claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplement security income (SSI).

         Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of July 1, 2008, which he later amended to November 10, 2010. PageID.309. Plaintiff identified his disabling conditions as: personality disorder; anxiety attacks; severe depression; a form of schizophrenia; problems sleeping; “meltdowns;” fear of rejection; “don't adjust well to new things;” headaches; acid reflux; and “anger problems.” PageID.314. Prior to applying for DIB and SSI, plaintiff completed the 11th grade, with past employment as a CNC operator at an aluminum factory, general laborer, and home care giver. PageID.315-316. The vocational expert (VE) identified plaintiff's past relevant work as a cut-off saw tender (unskilled, medium work) and automatic nailing-machine operator (semiskilled medium job). PageID.64. Administrative law judge (ALJ) Howard Kauffman reviewed plaintiff's claim de novo and entered a written decision denying benefits on December 29, 2015. PageID.51-65.

         ALJ Kauffman noted that plaintiff's June 2009 application for disability was denied in an unfavorable ALJ decision on November 9, 2010. PageID.52. However, ALJ Kauffman determined that he was not bound by the prior decision because there was new and material evidence showing a change in the claimant's medical condition and circumstances. PageID.51-52. Accordingly, ALJ Kauffman's December 29, 2015 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 and 416.905; 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).

         “The federal court's standard of review for SSI cases mirrors the standard applied in social security disability cases.” D'Angelo v. Commissioner of Social Security, 475 F.Supp.2d 716, 719 (W.D. Mich. 2007). “The proper inquiry in an application for SSI benefits is whether the plaintiff was disabled on or after her application date.” Casey v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993).

         II. ALJ's DECISION

         Plaintiff's claim failed at the fifth step of the evaluation. At the first step, ALJ Kauffman found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of November 10, 2010. PageID.54. In this regard, the ALJ found that, “[a]lthough the claimant worked after the amended alleged disability onset date, this work activity did not rise to the level of substantial gainful activity.” Id. The ALJ also found that plaintiff:

[M]et the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act from his amended alleged onset date through June 30, 2012. He did not meet the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act from July 1, 2012 through March 30, 2013, although it appears he may have again met the insured status requirements of ...

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