United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
S. CARMODY UNITED STATES 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) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI 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. SeeBrainard 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 Dep't 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 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 43 years of age on his alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.169). He possesses an eighth grade education and
previously worked as a fence installer and palletizer.
(PageID.54, 67). Plaintiff applied for benefits on December
5, 2013, alleging that he had been disabled October 10, 2012,
due to carpal tunnel syndrome, torn shoulder tendons, and
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). (PageID.169-70,
211). Plaintiff's applications were denied, after which
time he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ). (PageID.102-65). On December 7, 2015, Plaintiff
appeared before ALJ Martha Gasparovich with testimony being
offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert.
(PageID.61-100). In a written decision dated March 30, 2016,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.45-56). The Appeals Council declined to review the
ALJ's determination, rendering it the Commissioner's
final decision in the matter. (PageID.32-36). Plaintiff
subsequently initiated this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of the ALJ's
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) status post
right shoulder subacromial decompression and biceps
tenodesis; (2) left shoulder impingement syndrome; (3) left
supraspinatus tendon tear; and (4) chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (COPD), 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. (PageID.47-48). With
respect to Plaintiff's residual 5. If an individual's
impairment is so severe as to preclude the performance of
past work, other factors including age, education, past work
experience, and residual functional capacity must be
considered to determine if other work can be performed (20
C.F.R. '' 404.1520(f), 416.920(f)). functional
capacity, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the
capacity to perform light work subject to the following
limitations: (1) he cannot perform work at or above shoulder
level; (2) he requires a clean air environment free from
concentrated levels of dust, fumes, gases, chemicals, and
other airborne irritants; and (3) is unable to perform work
that requires independent reading or writing. (PageID.48).
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, “a 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. Sec'y 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 reported that there existed approximately
1, 430, 000 jobs in the national economy which an individual
with Plaintiffs RFC could perform, such limitations
notwithstanding. (PageID.278-79). 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
deemed ‘significant'”). Accordingly, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff was not entitled to disability
The ALJ's Assessment of ...