United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
DONALD J. SWANSON, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant,
Kent United States Magistrate Judge.
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).
alleged a disability onset date of December 14, 2013.
PageID.301. He identified his disabling conditions: breathing
conditions/severe shortness of breath; dizziness; sudden
collapse; back problems (compressed discs, bulging and
herniated discs in lower back); conditions in both knees;
condition in right hip; and loss of grip strength in the
hands. PageID.305. Prior to applying for DIB and SSI,
plaintiff completed the 12th Grade and had paramedic
training, with past employment as a paramedic and a freeway
service patrol tech. PageID.306. An administrative law judge
(ALJ) reviewed plaintiff's claim de novo and
entered a written decision denying benefits on September 14,
2015. PageID.34-44. 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.
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).
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.
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
Heston v. Commissioner of Social Security, 245 F.3d
528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted).
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).
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).
claim failed at the fifth step of the evaluation. At the
first step, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of
December 14, 2013, and met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018. PageID.36.
At the second step, the ALJ found that plaintiff had severe
impairments of: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD);
essential hypertension; moderate bilateral foraminal stenosis
at ¶ 5-C6; mild focal superior end plate depression of
L2; and minimal disc narrowing of L4-L5 with minimal endplate
change. PageID.36. At the third step, the ALJ found that
plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or equaled the requirements of the
Listing of Impairments in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.
The ALJ decided at the fourth step that:
[C]laimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c)
except he can lift and carry 20-50 pounds occasionally, 10-25
pounds frequently, and up to 10 pounds constantly. He can
push and pull as much as he can lift and carry. He can sit,
stand and walk up to 6 hours, each, in an eight-hour workday.
He cannot use foot or hand controls. He can occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. He can frequently balance and stoop, occasionally
crouch and kneel, but never crawl. He can frequently reach
overhead and frequently handle. He must avoid exposure to
extreme cold, extreme heat, and extreme humidity. He cannot
work in an environment with poor ventilation and he must