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Mitchell v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 7, 2019

APRILL D. MITCHELL, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Honorable Avern Cohn

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [ECF NOS. 12, 16]

          ELIZABETH A. STAFFORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Aprill Mitchell appeals a final decision of defendant Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying her applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental social security income benefits (SSI) under the Social Security Act. Both parties have filed summary judgment motions, referred to this Court for a report and recommendation under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). After review of the record, the Court RECOMMENDS that:

• Mitchell's motion [ECF No. 12] be DENIED;
• the Commissioner's motion [ECF No. 16] be GRANTED; and
• the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Mitchell's Background and Disability Applications

         Born March 19, 1958, Mitchell was 57 years old when she applied for disability benefits in January 2016. [ECF No. 10-5, Tr. 167-76]. She has a 12th-grade education and past work experience as an art and cooking instructor and as a custodian/lunch supervisor. [ECF No. 10-3, Tr. 82; ECF No. 10-6, Tr. 193]. Mitchell alleges a disability onset date of October 19, 2015, and that she is disabled by her right rotator cuff, arthritis in both knees and gout in her right knee and foot. [ECF No. 10-3, Tr. 85].

         After the Commissioner denied both disability applications initially, Mitchell requested a hearing, which took place in August 2017, during which she and a vocational expert (VE) testified. [ECF No. 10-2, Tr. 36-79]. Mitchell was represented at the hearing by a non-attorney representative. [ECF No. 10-2, Tr. 25]. In an October 6, 2017 written decision, the ALJ found Mitchell to be not disabled. [Id., Tr. 22-35]. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner, and Mitchell timely filed for judicial review. [Id., Tr. 1-7; ECF No. 1].

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

         A “disability” is 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A).

         The Commissioner determines whether an applicant is disabled by analyzing five sequential steps. First, if the applicant is “doing substantial gainful activity, ” he or she will be found not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).[1] Second, if the claimant has not had a severe impairment or a combination of such impairments[2] for a continuous period of at least 12 months, no disability will be found. Id. Third, if the claimant's severe impairments meet or equal the criteria of an impairment set forth in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments, the claimant will be found disabled. Id. If the fourth step is reached, the Commissioner considers its assessment of the claimant's residual functional capacity and will find the claimant not disabled if he or she can still do past relevant work. Id. At the final step, the Commissioner reviews the claimant's RFC, age, education and work experiences, and determines whether the claimant could adjust to other work. Id. The claimant bears the burden of proof throughout the first four steps, but the burden shifts to the Commissioner if the fifth step is reached. Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).

         Applying this framework, the ALJ concluded that Mitchell was not disabled. At the first step, he found that Mitchell had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. [ECF No. 10-2, Tr. 27]. At the second step, he found that Mitchell had the severe impairment of tendonitis of the right shoulder. [Id.] Next, the ALJ concluded that none of her impairments, ...


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