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McAfee v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 28, 2018

GERALD McAFEE, 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).

         Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of January 1, 2007. PageID.244. Because plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on March 31, 2012, the relevant time period for this appeal is January 1, 2007 through March 31, 2012. PageID.744, 748. Plaintiff identified his disabling conditions as: carpal tunnel; pain in the back, knees, shoulders and arms; hearing aids in both ears; and sleep apnea. PageID.256. Prior to applying for DIB, plaintiff completed the 12th grade and had past employment as a core maker in a factory. PageID.257.

         Plaintiff's claim was previously before this Court in McAfee v. Commissioner, No. 1:14-cv-771 (W.D. Mich.) (“McAfee I”). In McAfee I, which involved a February 21, 2013 decision from Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Bruce, the Court noted that “[a]s part of his decision, the ALJ [Bruce] gave res judicata effect to a previous ALJ's decision [by ALJ Butler] denying benefits on June 17, 2010, which found that plaintiff was not disabled from the alleged onset date of January 1, 2007 through June 17, 2010.” McAfee I at PageID.806. Ultimately, the Court reversed and remanded the case pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), because ALJ Bruce's decision did not address plaintiff's subjective complaints in a meaningful manner, i.e., the ALJ did not identify the symptoms mentioned in plaintiff's Adult Functional Report, address how those symptoms were disproportionate to the objective medical evidence, or how the symptoms were inconsistent with his activities of daily living. Id. at PageID.815. The Court further stated that “[o]n remand, the Commissioner is directed to re-evaluate plaintiff's credibility with respect to the pain in his shoulders, knees and hands.” Id. at PageID.815-816.

         In the present decision, entered on remand, ALJ Sampson recounted the history of the case:

Pursuant to the District Court remand order, the Appeals Council has directed the undersigned to reevaluate the plaintiff's credibility with respect to the pain in his shoulders, knees, and hands (Exhibits B9A, B10A). The undersigned notes that there is evidence subsequent to the prior June 17, 2010 decision, which supports severe impairments of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis of the shoulders, and chondromalacia of the knees.
The claimant had previously filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, which was denied at the hearing level by Administrative Law Judge Butler on June 17, 2010 (Exhibit B1A). There is no new and material evidence upon which to base any disturbance of that decision. As such, the principles of res judicata dictate that the decision of Administrative Law Judge Butler is final for the period from the claimant's alleged onset date of January 1, 2007 through the decision date of June 17, 2010.

         PageID.742.

         ALJ Sampson reviewed plaintiff's claim de novo and entered a written decision denying benefits on August 17, 2016. PageID.742-753. 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 ...

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