United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
S. CARMODY U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
an action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's
claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II
of the Social Security Act. The parties have agreed to
proceed in this Court for all further proceedings, including
an order of final judgment. Section 405(g) limits the Court
to a review of the administrative record and provides that if
the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence it shall be conclusive. The Commissioner has found
that Plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act.
For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence. Accordingly, the Commissioner's decision is
Court's jurisdiction is confined to a review of the
Commissioner's decision and of the record made in the
administrative hearing process. See Willbanks v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 847 F.2d 301,
303 (6th Cir. 1988). The scope of judicial review in a social
security case is limited to determining whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in making her
decision and whether there exists in the record substantial
evidence supporting that decision. See Brainard v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 889 F.2d 679,
681 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court may not conduct a de novo
review of the case, resolve evidentiary conflicts, or decide
questions of credibility. See Garner v. Heckler, 745
F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). It is the Commissioner who is
charged with finding the facts relevant to an application for
disability benefits, and her findings are conclusive provided
they are supported by substantial evidence. See42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance. See Cohen v. Sec'y of Dept of Health
and Human Services, 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir. 1992)
(citations omitted). It is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
401 (1971); Bogle v. Sullivan, 998 F.2d 342, 347
(6th Cir. 1993). In determining the substantiality of the
evidence, the Court must consider the evidence on the record
as a whole and take into account whatever in the record
fairly detracts from its weight. See Richardson v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 735 F.2d 962,
963 (6th Cir. 1984). As has been widely recognized, the
substantial evidence standard presupposes the existence of a
zone within which the decision maker can properly rule either
way, without judicial interference. See Mullen v.
Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (citation
omitted). This standard affords to the administrative
decision maker considerable latitude, and indicates that a
decision supported by substantial evidence will not be
reversed simply because the evidence would have supported a
contrary decision. See Bogle, 998 F.2d at 347;
Mullen, 800 F.2d at 545.
was 50 years of age on his alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.166). He successfully completed high school and
previously worked as a radio announcer, quality control
person, plastic molding machine operator, hi-lo operator, and
machine operator. (PageID.53-54). Plaintiff applied for
benefits on November 18, 2014, alleging that he had been
disabled since May 30, 2014, due to back injury, arthritis,
hypertension, inability to sit or stand for prolonged periods
of time, and pain. (PageID.166-70, 200). Plaintiff's
application was denied, after which time he requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
(PageID.91-164). On April 19, 2016, Plaintiff appeared before
ALJ Amy Rosenberg with testimony being offered by Plaintiff
and a vocational expert. (PageID.60-89). In a written
decision dated June 3, 2016, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.47-55). The Appeals
Council declined to review the ALJ's determination,
rendering it the Commissioner's final decision in the
matter. (PageID.28-33). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this
appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial
review of the ALJ's decision.
OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R.
'' 404.1520(a-f), 416.920(a-f). If the
Commissioner can make a dispositive finding at any point in
the review, no further finding is required. See 20
C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The regulations
also provide that if a claimant suffers from a nonexertional
impairment as well as an exertional impairment, both are
considered in determining his residual functional capacity.
See 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1545, 416.945.
burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely
on Plaintiff's shoulders, and he can satisfy his burden
by demonstrating that his impairments are so severe that he
is unable to perform his previous work, and cannot,
considering his age, education, and work experience, perform
any other substantial gainful employment existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. See 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Cohen, 964 F.2d at 528.
While the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step
five, Plaintiff bears the burden of proof through step four
of the procedure, the point at which his residual functioning
capacity (RFC) is determined. See Bowen v. Yuckert,
482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); Walters v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997) (ALJ
determines RFC at step four, at which point claimant bears
the burden of proof).
determined that Plaintiff suffered from: (1) lumbar
spondylosis; (2) hypertension; (3) obesity; (4) mild knee
degenerative changes; and (5) allergies, severe impairments
that whether considered alone or in combination with other
impairments, failed to satisfy the requirements of any
impairment identified in the Listing of Impairments detailed
in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
respect to Plaintiffs residual functional capacity, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform
light work subject to the following limitations: (1) he
requires a sit-stand option allowing him to change positions
2-3 times hourly; (2) when ambulating, he will need to use a
cane and so will be able to carry items in one hand only; (3)
he can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but can never
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (4) he can occasionally
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; (5) he must avoid
concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants; (6) he can have
no exposure to unprotected heights or dangerous machinery;
(7) he cannot operate a commercial vehicle; and (8) due to
Plaintiffs “use of medication, which he reports causes
grogginess and difficulty thinking quickly/sharply, and
distracting symptoms of pain, he is limited to performing
simple, routine tasks, and making simple work-related
found that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant
work at which point the burden of proof shifted to the
Commissioner to establish by substantial evidence that a
significant number of jobs exist in the national economy
which Plaintiff could perform, his limitations
notwithstanding. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964.
While the ALJ is not required to question a vocational expert
on this issue, Aa finding supported by substantial evidence
that a claimant has the vocational qualifications to perform
specific jobs" is needed to meet the burden.
O Banner v. Secy of Health and Human Services, 587
F.2d 321, 323 (6th Cir. 1978) (emphasis added). This standard
requires more than mere intuition or conjecture by the ALJ
that the claimant can perform specific jobs in the national
economy. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964.
Accordingly, ALJs routinely question vocational experts in an
attempt to determine whether there exist a significant number
of jobs which a particular claimant can perform, his
limitations notwithstanding. Such was the case here, as the
ALJ questioned a vocational expert.
vocational expert testified that there existed approximately
228, 000 jobs in the national economy which an individual
with Plaintiff's RFC could perform, such limitations
notwithstanding. (PageID.82-87). This represents a
significant number of jobs. See, e.g., Taskila v.
Commissioner of Social Security, 819 F.3d 902, 905 (6th
Cir. 2016) (“[s]ix thousand jobs in the United States
fits comfortably within what this court and others have