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Archambeau v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

April 17, 2019

Richard Archambeau, Jr., Plaintiff,
Commissioner Of Social Security, Defendant.

          Hon. Robert J. Jonker Judge.


          PHILLIP J. GREEN United States Magistrate Judge.

         This is 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 Income Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Section 405(g) limits the Court to a review of the administrative record, and it provides that if the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it shall be conclusive. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), authorizing United States Magistrate Judges to submit proposed findings of fact and recommendations for disposition of Social Security appeals, the undersigned recommends that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.


         The 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).

         Substantial 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 its weight. See 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 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.


         Plaintiff was 38 years of age on his alleged disability onset date. (ECF No. 8-7, PageID.264). He successfully completed high school and worked previously as a hi-lo driver and production line welder. (ECF No. 8-2, PageID.72). Plaintiff applied for benefits on August 25, 2015, alleging that he had been disabled since December 11, 2103, due to: (1) herniated discs, nerve damage, and numbness in his back; (2) torn cartilage in his knees; (3) floating bone spurs in his neck; (4) loss of fluid in his shoulder joints; (5) carpal tunnel syndrome; (6) inflammatory arthritis; (7) hypertension; (8) high cholesterol; (9) migraines; (10) vertigo; (11) depression; and (12) anxiety. (PageID.264-72, 301).

         Plaintiffs applications were denied, after which time he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (PageID. 128-262). On August 17, 2017, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Cynthia Harmon, with testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (ECF No. 8-3, PageID.81-126). In a written decision dated January 4, 2018, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.43-74). The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's determination, rendering it the Commissioner's final decision in the matter. (PageID.29-33). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision.


         The 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.

         The burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely on Plaintiffs 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. Commissioner of Social Security, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997).

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffers from: (1) degenerative disc disease; (2) bilateral carpal and cubital tunnel syndrome; (3) degenerative joint disease of the left acromioclavicular joint with left shoulder rotator cuff tendonitis; and (4) left knee chondromalacia and synovitis with effusion, 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.46-57).

         With respect to Plaintiffs residual functional capacity, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the ability to perform light work subject to the following limitations: (1) he can frequently, but not repetitively, push or pull with the left upper extremity; (2) he can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (3) he can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; (4) he can frequently, but not repetitively, reach overhead with his left upper extremity; (5) he can frequently, but not ...

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