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 Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II
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. See Brainardv.
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
Healthand 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). 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 29 years of age on his alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.202). Plaintiff successfully completed high school
and previously worked as a machine feeder and industrial
truck driver. (PageID.64). Plaintiff applied for benefits on
November 5, 2015, alleging that he had been disabled since
October 1, 2013, due to traumatic brain injury with light
sensitivity, insomnia, migraines, left shoulder
osteoarthritis, tinnitus, depression, anxiety, sleep
disturbances, left knee tendinitis, and memory impairment.
(PageID.202-03, 232). Plaintiff's application was denied,
after which time he requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (PageID.105-200). On July 7,
2016, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ JoErin O'Leary with
testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert.
(PageID.71-103). In a written decision dated September 1,
2016, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.53-66). The Appeals Council declined to review the
ALJ's determination, rendering it the Commissioner's
final decision in the matter. (PageID.41-45). 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) degenerative
joint disease of the left shoulder and left knee; (2) left
ear hearing loss and tinnitus; (3) traumatic brain injury
with migraine headaches; (4) mood disorders; and (5) anxiety
disorders, 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.55). With respect to Plaintiffs residual
functional capacity, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
retained the capacity to perform light work subject to the
following limitations: (1) he can lift 20 pounds occasionally
and 10 pounds frequently; (2) during an 8-hour workday, he
can stand and walk for two hours each; (3) he cannot perform
overhead reaching; (4) he should not kneel, crawl, or climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (5) he should not work around
unprotected heights or dangerous moving mechanical parts; (6)
he should not be exposed to occupational vibration; (7) he
can work in a moderate noise environment as that term is
defined by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles; (8) he is
limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks not
performed at a production rate pace; (9) he is limited to
making simple work-related decisions; and (10) he should not
be required to work with the general public, but can tolerate
occasional interaction with supervisors and co-workers.
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, Aa 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. Secy 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
422, 400 jobs in the national economy which an individual
with Plaintiff's RFC could perform, such limitations
notwithstanding. (PageID.100-02). 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
Section 12.04 of the Listing of Impairments
Listing of Impairments, detailed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1, identifies various impairments which,
if present to the severity detailed therein, result in a
finding that the claimant is disabled. Plaintiff argues that
his impairments meet or medically equal the requirements of
Section 12.04 the Listing of Impairments. Section 12.04 of
the Listing of Impairments provides as follows:
12.04 Affective Disorders: Characterized by a disturbance of
mood, accompanied by a full or partial manic or depressive
syndrome. Mood refers to a prolonged emotion that colors the
whole psychic life; it generally involves either depression
The required level of severity for these disorders is met
when the requirements in both A and B are satisfied, or when
the requirements in C are satisfied.
A. Medically documented persistence, either continuous or
intermittent, of one of the following:
1. Depressive syndrome characterized by at least four of the
a. Anhedonia or pervasive loss of interest in almost all