United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT, GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT, AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS
BERNARD A. FRIEDMAN SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is presently before the Court on cross motions for
summary judgment [docket entries 11 and 15]. Pursuant to E.D.
Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2), the Court shall decide these motions
without a hearing. For the reasons stated below, the Court
shall deny defendant's motion, grant plaintiff's
motion, and remand the matter for further proceedings.
has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to
challenge defendant's decision denying her applications
for Social Security disability insurance and Supplemental
Security Income benefits. An Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing in April 2016 (Tr. 39-57)
and issued a decision denying benefits in July 2016 (Tr.
20-34). This became defendant's final decision in
September 2017 when the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-4).
§ 405(g), the issue before the Court is whether
defendant's decision is supported by substantial
evidence. As the Sixth Circuit has explained, the Court
must affirm the Commissioner's findings if they are
supported by substantial evidence and the Commissioner
employed the proper legal standard. White, 572 F.3d
at 281 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)); Elam ex rel.
Golay v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th
Cir. 2003); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127
F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (internal quotation marks
omitted); see also Kyle, 609 F.3d at 854 (quoting
Lindsley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601,
604 (6th Cir. 2009)). Where the Commissioner's decision
is supported by substantial evidence, it must be upheld even
if the record might support a contrary conclusion. Smith
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 893 F.2d 106,
108 (6th Cir. 1989). However, a substantiality of evidence
evaluation does not permit a selective reading of the record.
“Substantiality of the evidence must be based upon the
record taken as a whole. Substantial evidence is not simply
some evidence, or even a great deal of evidence. Rather, the
substantiality of evidence must take into account whatever in
the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Garner
v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 388 (6th Cir. 1984) (internal
citations and quotation marks omitted).
Brooks v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 531 F. App'x
636, 640-41 (6th Cir. 2013).
time of the ALJ's decision, plaintiff was 42 years old.
She has a high school education and experience as an assembly
line worker (Tr. 42, 154). Plaintiff claims she has been
disabled since June 2013 due to back pain, carpal tunnel in
both wrists, arthritis in her spine and hands, diabetes, high
cholesterol, sleep apnea, depression, panic attacks, and
chronic pain (Tr. 163, 171). The ALJ found that
plaintiff's severe impairments are “degenerative
disc disease, obesity, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome,
depression, and panic disorder” (Tr. 25) and that her
non-severe impairments are diabetes, high cholesterol, sleep
apnea, and right shoulder issues (Tr. 26). He found that
plaintiff cannot perform her past work but that she has the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a
limited range of light work. A vocational expert
(“VE”) testified in response to a hypothetical
question that a person of plaintiff's age, education, and
work experience, and who has this RFC, could perform certain
unskilled sorting, packaging, and “product processing
and product finishing” jobs (Tr. 54). The ALJ cited
this testimony to support his conclusion that plaintiff is
not disabled because work exists in significant numbers that
she could perform (Tr. 33).
reviewed the administrative record and the parties'
briefs, the Court concludes that defendant's decision is
not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ's
RFC evaluation of plaintiff is flawed. Since the hypothetical
question incorporated a flawed RFC evaluation, it failed to
describe plaintiff in all relevant respects and the VE's
testimony given in response thereto cannot be used to carry
defendant's burden to prove the existence of a
significant number of jobs that plaintiff is capable of
ALJ's RFC evaluation is flawed for the following reasons.
First, the ALJ failed to fully consider the side effects of
plaintiff's medications. The record indicates that
plaintiff takes, or at various times has taken, many
medications, including Alprazolam (Xanax), Aprine, Metformin,
Norco, Meloxicam, Hydrocodone, Meloxicam, Lamotrigine,
Duloxetine, Citalopram, Lisinopril, Piroxicam, Neurontin,
Cymbalta, Lamictal, Ativan, Methylprednisone, Duler,
Gabapentin, ProAir, Symbicort, Omeprazole, and Lamisil (Tr.
166, 182, 212-20, 241, 261, 316-17, 346, 378, 433), several
of which have known side effects. On her function report,
plaintiff indicated that some of her medications make her
feel tired, dizzy, and sleepy (Tr. 173, 180-82). Elsewhere,
plaintiff indicated that some of her medications make her
feel foggy, tired, forgetful, and sleepy (Tr. 214-16).
Plaintiff testified that her medications make her feel
fatigued, confused, and dizzy (Tr. 51).
ALJ's only discussion of this issue was to dismiss
plaintiff's testimony on the grounds that “in
January 2016 the claimant was described as not experiencing
lightheadedness or dizziness (Exhibit 3F, page 4)” (Tr.
29). This statement does not sufficiently address the issue
of plaintiff's medication side effects. Plaintiff does
not claim to experience lightheadedness. She does claim to
experience dizziness. While at the page cited by the ALJ the
doctor answered “No” to the question of whether
“the patient has been experiencing dizziness and/or
lightheadedness” (Tr. 319), on the same form he listed
“[d]izziness and giddiness” among plaintiff's
confirmed problems (Tr. 316), as he did on at least ten other
occasions (Tr. 322, 328, 333, 341, 345, 349, 354, 359, 363,
366). Further, he answered “Yes” to the question
about whether “the patient has been experiencing
dizziness and/or lightheadedness” two weeks and four
weeks before giving the “No” answer (Tr. 324,
record, it was unreasonable for the ALJ to conclude that
plaintiff does not experience dizziness. Further, the ALJ
made no findings about the other side effects plaintiff
claims to experience, i.e., fatigue, confusion, forgetfulness
and sleepiness. The Sixth Circuit has held that the ALJ must
evaluate “[t]he type, dosage, effectiveness, and side
effects of any medication” as part of the process of
determining the extent to which side effects impair a
claimant's capacity to work. Keeton v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 583 F. App'x 515, 532 (6th Cir. 2014)
(quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.929(c)(3)(i)-(vi)). Further,
hypothetical questions to vocational experts must account for
medication side effects. See White v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 312 F. App'x 779, 789-90 (6th Cir. 2009). On
remand, the ALJ must determine which medications plaintiff
was taking during the relevant time period; make findings as
to the nature and severity of these medications' side
effects, if any; and revise his RFC assessment and his
hypothetical question(s) to the VE, as appropriate.
the RFC assessment in this matter is flawed because
substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's finding
that despite her bilateral CTS plaintiff can perform light
work (which under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) requires
lifting ten pounds frequently and up to twenty pounds
occasionally) with the only hand-related limitations being
“no vibratory tools” and “only frequent
handling, fingering, and grasping on the right” (Tr.
27). Plaintiff testified that her “fingers go numb,
” that she “drop[s] a lot of thing, ” that
she is “not able to hold on, ” that
“[i]t's painful when my hand goes numb, ”
that she would need both hands to lift a gallon of milk, that
medication does not help with her hand/finger/wrist pain, and
that she wears baggy clothing because she cannot manipulate
bottons, snaps or zippers (Tr. 48-49). Plaintiff wrote on her
disability report that her “fingers go numb and hurt
[and] I constantly drop things because of the numbness”
(Tr. 170). On her function report plaintiff indicated that
she has “numbness and pain in both hands and [wears] a
wrist/hand brace. I constantly drop things. I cannot hold
things or my fingers go numb” (Tr. 173). During her
psychological examination in October 2014, it was noted that
plaintiff wore braces on both wrists (Tr. 312).
only medical opinion in this record that commented
specifically about the functional impact of plaintiff's
CTS is from Dr. Jurado, who examined plaintiff at
defendant's request in May 2016 and who noted
“[s]ensory perception . . . both hands absent, . . .
right hand absent, left decreased” (Tr. 435). Dr.
Jurado opined that plaintiff could occasionally (one-third of
the time) lift and carry up to ten pounds and
“never” more than ten pounds; and that she could
“never” use her hands for reaching overhead and
only occasionally for handling, fingering, feeling, and
pushing/pulling (Tr. 437, 439).
rejected plaintiff's testimony about her hand complaints,
as well as Dr. Jurado's hand-related restrictions, but
his reasons for doing so lack substantial support in the
record. The ALJ found that plaintiff's hand injections
have “been effective, ” but the only evidence he
cited for this is Dr. Hall's statement on March 7, 2016,
that “[s]he reports her right hand is much improved
after the Celestone injection” (Tr. 428). That
injection was administered on February 15, 2016 (Tr. 404).
The ALJ made no findings as to the extent or duration of this
relief. The mere fact that the injection provided relief
after three weeks ...