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 Income Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental
Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act. The parties subsequently 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 articulated herein, the Commissioner's
decision is vacated and this matter remanded for
further factual findings pursuant to sentence four of 42
U.S.C. Â§ 405(g).
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).
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. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial 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 weight. See Richardson v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 735 F.2d 962,
963 (6th Cir. 1984).
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 54 years of age on his alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.197). Plaintiff successfully completed high school
and worked previously as a fast food worker and a custodian.
(PageID.53-54, 65). Plaintiff applied for disability benefits
on September 19, 2014, alleging that he had been disabled
since July 2, 2012, due to back, neck, and shoulder
impairments, high blood pressure, and jaw problems.
(PageID.197-205, 217). Plaintiff later amended his alleged
disability onset date to September 18, 2014. (PageID.214).
Plaintiff's applications were denied, after which time he
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
February 12, 2016, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ James
Prothro with testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a
vocational expert. (PageID.59-97). In a written decision
dated March 31, 2016, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was
not disabled. (PageID.45-54). The Appeals Council declined to
review the ALJ's decision, rendering it the
Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.33-37). 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 of the sequential evaluation process, 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 suffers from: (1) left shoulder
capsulitis (status-post arthroscopic surgery and debridement
of the left shoulder in June 2014); (2) a strain of the
lumbar and cervical spine; (3) lumbar disc bulges at ¶
L4-5 and L5-S1 without stenosis or herniation; and (4)
degenerative changes (spurring) of the cervical spine, 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 Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the ability to perform
light work subject to the limitation that he can only
occasionally climb, balance, and push/pull with his
non-dominant left upper extremity. (PageID.49). A vocational
expert testified that Plaintiff's RFC did not preclude
the performance of Plaintiff's past relevant work as a
fast food worker. (PageID.88-90). Based upon this ...