United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
RUTH A. SEELYE, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
DISTRICT JUDGE, GERSHWIN A. DRAIN
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCS. 14, 15)
PATRICIA T. MORRIS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Introduction and Procedural History
an action for judicial review of a final decision by the
Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Ruth
Seelye's claim for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1381-1383f. (Doc. 1). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B), E.D. Mich. LR 72.1(b)(3), and by Notice
of Reference, this case was referred to the undersigned
Magistrate Judge. (Doc. 4). The matter is currently before
the court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 14,
was born on July 15, 1971, making her 42 years old when she
filed her initial application for SSI on January 11, 2014.
(Tr. 157-61). Plaintiff had filed three previous SSI
applications-in January 2007, June 2008, and September
2010-none of which she appealed from the initial denial. (Tr.
68). After the Commissioner denied her most recent claim,
Plaintiff requested a hearing, (Tr. 98-100), which was held
before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) David
Bruce, (Tr. 34-66). Ultimately, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
had not been under a disability during the relevant time
period, (Tr. 9-31), and the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-8). This action
Standard of Review
district court has jurisdiction to review the
Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The district court's review is
restricted to determining whether the “Commissioner has
failed to apply the correct legal standard or has made
findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the
record.” Sullivan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
595 Fed.Appx. 502, 506 (6th Cir. 2014) (internal citations
omitted). 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.” Rogers v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir.
2007) (internal quotations omitted).
court must examine the administrative record as a whole, and
may consider any evidence in the record, regardless of
whether it has been cited by the ALJ. See Walker v.
Secretary of Health and Human Services, 884 F.2d 241,
245 (6th Cir. 1989). The court will not “try the case
de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide
questions of credibility.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir.
1994). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence, “it must be affirmed even if the
reviewing court would decide the matter differently and even
if substantial evidence also supports the opposite
conclusion.” Id. at 286 (internal citations
Framework for Disability Determinations
the Act, “DIB and SSI are available only for those who
have a ‘disability.'” Colvin v.
Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007).
“Disability” means the inability
to engage in any 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.
42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (DIB); 20
C.F.R. § 416.905(a) (SSI). The Commissioner's
regulations provide that disability is to be determined
through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:
(i) At the first step, we consider your work activity, if
any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will
find that you are not disabled. . . .
(ii) At the second step, we consider the medical severity of
your impairment(s). If you do not have a severe medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that meets the
duration requirement . . . or a combination of impairments
that is severe and meets the duration requirement, we will
find that you are not disabled. . . .
(iii) At the third step, we also consider the medical
severity of your impairment(s). If you have an impairment(s)
that meets or equals one of our listings in appendix 1 of
this subpart and meets the duration requirement, we will find
that you are disabled. . . .
(iv) At the fourth step, we consider our assessment of your
residual functional capacity and your past relevant work. If
you can still do your past relevant work, we will find that
you are not disabled. . . .
(v) At the fifth and last step, we consider our assessment of
your residual functional capacity and your age, education,
and work experience to see if you can make an adjustment to
other work. If you can make an adjustment to other work, we
will find that you are not disabled. If you cannot make an
adjustment to other work, we will find that you are disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. See also Heston
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir.
2001). “Through step four, 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.” Jones v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir.
2003). A claimant must establish a medically determinable
physical or mental impairment (expected to last at least
twelve months or result in death) that rendered her unable to
engage in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). The burden transfers to the Commissioner if the
analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that the
claimant is not disabled. Combs v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 643 (6th Cir. 2006). At the fifth
step, the Commissioner is required to show that “other
jobs in significant numbers exist in the national economy
that [the claimant] could perform given her RFC [residual
functional capacity] and considering relevant vocational
factors.” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241 (citing 20
C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), (g)).
the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, since January 11, 2014, the date her
application was filed. (Tr. 25). First, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the application date of January 11, 2014. (Tr. 14).
Next, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following
severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical
spine, carpal tunnel syndrome, and obesity. (Id.).
Plaintiff did not, however, have an impairment or combination
of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of
a listed impairment. (Tr. 15). The ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except for
frequent handling and fingering, bilaterally, as opposed to
constantly. The claimant is also limited to performing simple
tasks; making simple work related decisions; and having
frequent contact with co-workers and supervisors, but no more
than occasional contact with the public. She should avoid all
exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and moving,
mechanical parts and/or machinery; and no commercial driving.
(Tr. 17). Plaintiff had no past relevant work, but the ALJ
found that considering Plaintiff's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, jobs that Plaintiff could perform
existed in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr.
court has thoroughly reviewed Plaintiff's medical record.
In lieu of summarizing her medical history here, the court
will make reference and provide citations to the record as
necessary in its discussion of the parties' arguments.
Application Reports and Administrative Hearing
Plaintiff's Function Report
completed a function report on January 31, 2014. (Tr. 205).
She described how her ability to work was limited because she
could “hardly move” when she woke up every day,
and she had severe pain in her neck, back, legs, and knees.
(Tr. 198). She couldn't walk “very far” and
standing made her lightheaded and dizzy; before the onset of
her conditions, she had been able to “walk, move with
ease, be on [her] feet.” (Tr. 198-99). She did not
indicate that she used any ambulation aids (Tr. 204). For
medications, she reported taking Ambien. (Tr. 205).
marked that her illnesses, injuries, or conditions affected
her ability to lift, squat, bend, stand, reach, walk, sit,
kneel, hear, climb stairs, see, complete tasks, concentrate,
and use her hands, as well as her memory. (Tr. 203). She
explained: “can't lift much have arthritis and
fibromyalgia so in a lot of pain to be able to move.”
(Id.). By Plaintiff's estimate, she could walk
fifty steps before needing to stop and rest for fifteen to
twenty minutes. (Id.) She did not finish what she
started, but followed written or spoken instructions