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Wagster v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 7, 2018

SHANE E. WAGSTER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCS. 14, 16)

          Patricia T. Morris United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         In light of the entire record in this case, I suggest that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's determination that Plaintiff Shane Wagster is not disabled. Accordingly, IT IS RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. 14), be DENIED, that the Commissioner's Motion, (Doc. 16), 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's claims for Social Security Supplemental Insurance benefits (“SSI”) under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f, and for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. (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, 16).

         Plaintiff filed for DIB and SSI on June 12, 2014, alleging disability beginning May 18, 2014. (PageID.58). Plaintiff was born on May 18, 1970. (PageID.213). An initial denial for both claims issued on October 21, 2014. (PageID.58). At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was held on May 18, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Kevin W. Fallis. (PageID.78-116). Several months later, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claims. (PageID.55-77). In June 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (PageID 36-42).[1] 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 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 the claimant 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. 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 Social Security Act from May 18, 2014, through the date of the decision, August 2, 2016. (PageID.72-73). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of May 18, 2014. (PageID.60). Next, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spines, carpal tunnel syndrome, degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder and hips, cervicalgia, headache, traumatic brain injury, adjustment disorder, alcohol use disorder in early remission, and cocaine use disorder in full remission. (Id.). Additionally, he had the non-severe impairment of hearing loss. (PageID.61). At step three, the ALJ observed that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (Id.). Next, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the RFC to

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except a sit/stand option, allowing the opportunity to sit or stand alternatively provided this person is not off task more than 10% of the work period; occasional pushing and pulling; occasional operation of foot controls; never climbing ladders, rope, or scaffolds, occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; occasional overhead reaching, frequent handling of objects and fingering; and must avoid even moderate exposure to excessive noise and use of hazardous moving machinery, avoid all exposure to excessive vibration and unprotected heights. Limited to occupations which do not require complex written or verbal communication; work is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks performed in a work environment free of fast-paced production requirements involving only simple work-related decisions and routine workplace changes; and only occasional and superficial interaction with the public.

(PageID.63). Moving to step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform any past relevant work. (PageID.71). Finally, at step five, the ALJ concluded that jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Id.).

         E. Administrative Record

         1. ...


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