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Robinson v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 8, 2018






         In light of the entire record in this case, I suggest that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's determination that Plaintiff is not disabled. Accordingly, IT IS RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. 10), be DENIED, that the Commissioner's Motion, (Doc. 12), be GRANTED, and that this case be AFFIRMED.

         II. REPORT

         A. Introduction and Procedural History

         This is an action for judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Allen Robinson's claim for Social Security Supplemental Insurance benefits (“SSI”) 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. 3). The matter is currently before the court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 10, 12). Plaintiff has also filed a response to Defendant's motion. (Doc. 13).

         Plaintiff was born on August 25, 1973, making him 41 years old when he filed for SSI on September 19, 2014, alleging an onset date of July 1, 2013. (Tr. 44, 157). An initial denial for his SSI claim issued on January 29, 2015. (Tr. 97). At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was held on April 11, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Kevin R. Barnes; Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Stephanie Leach both testified. (Tr. 36-81). The following month, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 17-31). In May 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.[1] (Tr. 1-4). This action followed.

         B. Standard of Review

         The 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).

         The 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. (internal citations omitted).

         C. Framework for Disability Determinations

         Under 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 [“RFC”] 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 [his or] her impairments and the fact that [he or] she is precluded from performing [his or] 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 [his or] her RFC and considering relevant vocational factors.” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), (g)).

         D. ALJ Findings

         Following the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been disabled under the Act since September 19, 2014, the date Plaintiff filed his application. (Tr. 22-23). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date. (Tr. 22). At step two, he determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative osteoarthritic changes of the bilateral hands and bilateral knees; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with sacroilitis; schizoaffective disorder; asthma; and depressive disorder. (Id.). Moving on to step three, he decided Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (Tr. 23). The ALJ next concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except can lift or carry 10 pounds occasionally; occasional pushing or pulling bilaterally; no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasional climbing of ramps or stairs, balancing stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; avoid even moderate exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation; requires the ability to sit or stand alternatively at will, provided that the claimant is not off task for more than 10% of the workday; work must be isolated from the public with only occasional interaction with coworkers; and is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks, performed in a work environment free of fast-paced production requirements, involving only simple, work-related decisions and few, if any workplace changes.

(Tr. 25). Plaintiff had no past relevant work, so the ALJ proceeded to Step Five, where he 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. 30).

         E. Administrative Record

         1. Medical Evidence

         The court has thoroughly reviewed Plaintiff's medical record. In lieu of summarizing his medical history here, the court will make reference and provide citations to the record as necessary in its discussion of the parties' arguments.

         2. Application Reports and Administrative Hearing

         a. Plaintiff's Function Report

         Plaintiff completed a function report on November 16, 2014. (Tr. 193-200). He reported that he lived alone in a house. (Tr. 193). On an average day, he would wake up and put pressure on his back to stop the pain, get up and walk around to stretch, and then sit in bed and talk to his mother. (Tr. 194). To stay occupied, he would watch television in bed and talk to his family members. (Tr. 197-98).[2]

         He did not go outside because, he said, “I don't care to know what's outside”; he was also “afraid that [he] may hurt somebody.” (Tr. 196-97). Instead, his sister or brother went shopping for him. (Tr. 196). He estimated that he prepared his own meals weekly, including sandwiches and frozen dinners, and that it took about twenty minutes. (Tr. 195).

         At his mother's request, Plaintiff would clean his room, but he was unable to say how often or how long it took. (Tr. 195). As his back hurt “constantly, ” he found it difficult to clean. (Tr. 196). His mother also reminded him to take his medication and to take care of his personal needs and grooming. (Tr. 195).

         Plaintiff struggled with social behavior. He described himself as “anti-social” and wrote that he “follow[ed] prison rules.” (Tr. 197). A question asking how well he got along with authority figures drew a response laced with profanity. (Tr. 199). Plaintiff also reported he had been fired or laid off from a job because of problems getting along with other people, explaining, “I shout [expletive] and say what's on my mind with no problems.” (Tr. 199).

         Due to degenerative osteoarthritis in his hands and back, he suffered from constant back pain, morning stiffness, and aching joints. (Tr. 193). His sleep was troubled because he was “constantly in pain from [his] lower back” and heard the sounds of “bones poppin[g].” (Tr. 194). Joint stiffness and aching fingers made it difficult to dress, care for his hair, and shave. (Tr. 194). Sitting for long periods of time hurt his back, affecting his ability to bathe and use the toilet. (Tr. 194).

         Additionally, his impairments affected his ability to lift, squat, bend, stand, walk, sit, kneel, climb stairs, complete tasks, concentrate, follow instructions, use his hands, and get along with others. (Tr. 198). By Plaintiff's estimate, he could walk fifteen to twenty minutes before needing to stop and rest for thirty to forty minutes. (Tr. 198). As for assistive devices, he indicated that he used a wheelchair, cane, brace or splint, and glasses or contact lenses every day, none of which had been prescribed by a doctor. (Tr. 199).

         b. Third Party Function Report

         Plaintiff's sister, Anita Robinson, also completed a function report for him. (Tr. 201-08). She had known Plaintiff since birth but said she now spent “not that much time” with him because she had children to take care of. (Tr. 201). When she saw her brother, he was in bed talking to himself “and with his imaginary friends.” (Tr. 201). He spent most of the time “in bed from pain, ” despite his sister's efforts to convince him to leave the house. (Tr. 204). He did not shop. (Tr. 204). He could not go out alone because he believed people were trying to harm him and would become defensive. (Tr. 204). For entertainment, he read or watched television. (Tr. 205). He rarely spent time with ...

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