United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
PHILLIP J. GREEN 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
Plaintiffs 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 will be affirmed.
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.
Secretary 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. Secretary 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. See 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance. See Cohen v. Secretary of Department of
Health and Human Services, 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir.
1992). 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
Richardson v. Secretary 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). This standard affords to the administrative decision
maker considerable latitude, and it 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 49 years of age on her alleged disability onset date.
(ECF No. 5-5, PageID.189). She successfully completed high
school and worked previously as a receptionist and
administrative clerk. (ECF No. 5-2, PageID.46). Plaintiff
applied for benefits on May 8, 2015, alleging that she had
been disabled since January 5, 2015, due to arthritis,
chronic pain, peripheral neuropathy, high blood pressure,
diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, right foot
tendonitis, and severe back pain. (PageID.189-93, 233).
Plaintiffs application was denied, after which time she
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
(PageID.96-187). On August 21, 2017, Plaintiff appeared
before ALJ Keven Vodak with testimony being offered by
Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (PageID.54-94). In a
written decision dated January 24, 2018, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.37-48). The Appeals
Council declined to review the ALJ's determination,
rendering it the Commissioner's final decision in the
matter. (PageID.21-27). Plaintiff timely filed this appeal.
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 her
residual functional capacity. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1545, 416.945.
burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely
on Plaintiffs shoulders, and she can satisfy her burden by
demonstrating that her impairments are so severe that she is
unable to perform her previous work, and cannot, considering
her 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 her residual functioning
capacity (RFC) is determined. See Bowen v. Yuckert,
482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); Walters v. Commissioner of
Social Security, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997).
determined that Plaintiff suffers from the following severe
impairments: (1) degenerative disc disease of the cervical
spine; (2) lumbar spondylosis; (3) osteoarthritis in the
bilateral knees; (4) calcaneal spur on the right foot; (5)
diabetes mellitus; and (6) obesity. The ALJ also determined
the impairments, whether considered alone or in combination
with other impairments, failed to satisfy the requirements of
the Listing of Impairments detailed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. (PageID.40-42).
respect to Plaintiffs residual functional capacity, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff retained the ability to perform
light work subject to the following limitations: (1) during
an eight-hour workday, she can stand/walk for four hours; (2)
she needs to alternate from a sitting position every hour,
stand for two to three minutes, and then return to sitting;
(3) she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but can
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (4) she can
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and
(5) she can have no exposure to unprotected heights or moving
mechanical parts. (PageID.42).
found that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant
work, at which point the burden shifted to the Commissioner
to establish by substantial evidence that a significant
number of jobs exist in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform, her 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 ...