United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DENYING DEFENDANT'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 9 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 grant plaintiff's motion, deny defendant's
motion, and remand the case for further proceedings.
has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to
challenge defendant's decision denying her application
for Supplemental Security Income benefits. An Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing in September
2016 (Tr. 64-98) and issued a decision denying benefits in
March 2017 (Tr. 8-23). This became defendant's final
decision in December 2017 when the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-4).
' 405(g), the issue before the Court is whether the
ALJ'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. Commr 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. Secy 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. Commr of Soc Sec, 531 Fed.Appx. 636,
640-41 (6th Cir. 2013).
was 34 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision (Tr.
22). She has a ninth grade education and work experience as a
waitress, janitor, and receptionist (Tr. 70, 93, 210).
Plaintiff claims she has been disabled since November 2012
due to leg pain, head trauma, anxiety, migraines, memory
loss, panic attacks, depression, and mood swings (Tr. 209).
found that plaintiffs severe impairments are “chronic
pain; status-post tibia-fibular fracture and closed head
injury due to motor vehicle accident in 2008 ;
osteoarthritis; chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder,
obesity; panic disorder with agoraphobia; obsessive
compulsive disorder; and major depressive disorder" (Tr.
13). The ALJ further found that despite her impairments
plaintiff 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 and education,
and who has this RFC, could perform certain unskilled, light
jobs such as office helper, inspector hand packager, and
router (Tr. 95-96). The ALJ cited this testimony as evidence
that work exists in significant numbers that plaintiff could
perform and concluded that she is not disabled (Tr. 22-23).
reviewed the administrative record and the parties= summary
judgment motions, the Court concludes that the ALJ's
decision in this matter is not supported by substantial
evidence because her RFC evaluation of plaintiff is flawed.
Since the ALJ's hypothetical question incorporated this
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
plaintiff is capable of performing.
ALJ's RFC assessment of plaintiff is flawed for three
reasons. First, the ALJ failed to consider the side effects
of plaintiffs medications. Plaintiff testified that some of
her medications make her feel sleepy, nauseous, and dizzy
(Tr. 79, 83). The record indicates that plaintiff takes, or
has taken, a number of medications including Atenolol,
Klonopin, Norco, Vicodin, Xanax, Ambien, Omeprazole,
Augmentin, Trazodone, Alprazolam, Percocet, and Paxil (Tr.
212, 255, 272, 277, 356, 368-69, 410, 472), some of which
have known side effects.
erred in failing to make any findings regarding this issue.
The Sixth Circuit has held that the ALJ must evaluate A[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. Commr of Soc Sec, 583 Fed.Appx.
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. Commr of Soc.
Sec, 312 Fed.Appx. 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 extent of these medications' side
effects, if any; adjust her findings as appropriate regarding
plaintiffs RFC; and incorporate these findings in proper
hypothetical questions to the VE.
the RFC assessment is flawed because the ALJ neglected to
make any findings regarding the extent to which plaintiffs
ability to work is affected by her panic disorder with
agoraphobia and her major depressive disorder, both of which
the ALJ found to be among plaintiffs severe impairments.
Plaintiff testified that she isolates herself at home, does
not go out to movies or to eat, does not attend
parent/teacher conferences or any of her teenaged
daughter's activities, does not visit with friends, and
leaves the house only to see her psychiatrist once per week
(Tr. 76-77, 89-90). On her function report, plaintiff
indicated that the only time she spends with others is
Asit[ting] around the house" with her daughter and
husband (Tr. 237). Plaintiffs husband indicated that
plaintiff Adoesn't really leave the house" and that
she Adoesn't like to go out alone so I'm usually with
her" (Tr. 244). Dr. Hayter, whose report the ALJ gave
Agreat weight" (Tr. 20), did not comment on plaintiffs
panic disorder/agoraphobia or depression (Tr.363-66). Dr.
Chapman diagnosed both disorders, and the ALJ accepted these
diagnoses (Tr. 13, 485). On remand, the ALJ must make
findings as to the nature and severity of plaintiffs panic
disorder/agoraphobia and depression, and revise plaintiffs
RFC and the hypothetical questions) to the VE as appropriate.
the ALJ made no findings regarding plaintiffs migraines. The
ALJ noted that plaintiff listed migraines among her
impairments in her disability application and in her
disability report (Tr. 17, referring to Tr. 99, 252, 257).
Plaintiff told Dr. Hayter that her migraines occur three
times per week and last two hours, and she rated them at 9 on
the 1-10 pain scale (Tr. 363). Plaintiff testified similarly
(Tr. 87-88). While the ALJ noted this testimony (Tr. 17), he
neither accepted nor rejected it. On remand, the ALJ must
make findings as to the severity, frequency, and duration of
plaintiff s migraines, and revise plaintiffs RFC and the
hypothetical questions) to the VE as appropriate.
these reasons, the Court concludes that the ALJ's
decision in this matter is not supported by substantial
evidence. Remanding the matter for an award of benefits would
not be appropriate at this time because the record, in its
current state, is not such that Aproof of disability is
overwhelming or . . . proof of disability is strong and
evidence to the contrary is lacking." Faucher v.
Secy of Health and Human Servs.,17 F.3d 171, 176 (6th
Cir. 1994). Rather, the matter must be remanded so that the
record may be ...