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Huntington v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 4, 2019

SHAWN MARIE HUNTINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Honorable George Caram Steeh J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [11, 13]

          DAVID R. GRAND UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Shawn Marie Huntington (“Huntington”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), challenging the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). Both parties have filed summary judgment motions (Docs. #11, #13), which have been referred to this Court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) conclusion that Huntington is not disabled under the Act is not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court recommends that the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #13) be DENIED, Huntington's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #11) be GRANTED IN PART to the extent it seeks remand and DENIED IN PART to the extent it seeks an award of benefits, and that, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this case be REMANDED to the ALJ for further proceedings consistent with this Recommendation.

         II. REPORT

         A. Background

         Huntington was 45 years old at the time of her alleged onset date of June 9, 2015, and at 5'4” tall weighed approximately 125 pounds during the relevant time period. (Tr. 159, 176). She completed high school but had no college education. (Tr. 177). She worked consistently, first as a personal trainer and then as a shift manager at a grocery store, before she suffered a back injury at work in June of 2015. (Tr. 28-29, 38, 177, 191). She now alleges disability primarily as a result of ongoing back pain, as well as depression and bipolar disorder. (Tr. 38, 176).

         After Huntington's application for DIB was denied at the initial level on May 16, 2017 (Tr. 70-77), she timely requested an administrative hearing, which was held before ALJ Crystal White-Simmons on December 11, 2017 (Tr. 24-52). Huntington, who was represented by attorney Charles Palmer, testified at the hearing, as did vocational expert (“VE”) Zachary Matthews. (Id.). On January 29, 2018, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Huntington is not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 10-20). On April 17, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review. (Tr. 1-5). Huntington timely filed for judicial review of the final decision on June 12, 2018. (Doc. #1).

         The Court has thoroughly reviewed the transcript in this matter, including Huntington's medical record, Function and Disability Reports, and testimony as to her conditions and resulting limitations. Instead of summarizing that information here, the Court will make references and provide citations to the transcript as necessary in its discussion of the parties' arguments.

         B. The ALJ's Application of the Disability Framework Analysis

         Under the Act, DIB are available only for those who have a “disability.” See Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). The Act defines “disability” as 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Commissioner's regulations provide that a disability is to be determined through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:

Step One: If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Two: If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments that “significantly limits . . . physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, ” benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Three: If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, has a severe impairment that is expected to last for at least twelve months, and the severe impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the regulations, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled regardless of age, education, or work experience.
Step Four: If the claimant is able to perform his or her past relevant work, benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Five: Even if the claimant is unable to perform his or her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that the claimant can perform, in view of his or her age, ...

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