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Engelman v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

April 19, 2019

Norma J. Engelman, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Honorable Robert J. Jonker Judge.


          PHILLIP J. GREEN United States Magistrate Judge.

         This is a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that plaintiff was not entitled to supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. On May 19, 2015, plaintiff filed her application for SSI benefits. (ECF No. 8-5, PageID.190-95). Plaintiff's claim was denied on initial review. (ECF No. 8-4, PageID.129-36). On July 6, 2017, plaintiff received a hearing before the ALJ. (ECF No. 8-2, PageID.62-109). The ALJ issued her decision on December 13, 2017, finding that plaintiff was not disabled. (Op., ECF No. 8-2, PageID.44-56). On May 23, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review (ECF No. 8-2, PageID.30-32), rendering the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff timely filed a complaint seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner's decision should be overturned because “the ALJ failed to obtain an expert medical opinion regarding medical equivalency.” (Plf. Brief, 9-10, ECF No. 12, PageID.1012-13). For the reasons set forth herein, I recommend that the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         Standard of Review

         When reviewing the grant or denial of social security benefits, this court is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner correctly applied the law. See Elam ex rel. Golay v. Commissioner, 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th Cir. 2003); Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence is defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The scope of the court's review is limited. Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772. The court does not review the evidence de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or make credibility determinations. See Ulman v. Commissioner, 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012); Walters v. Commissioner, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). “The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see McClanahan v. Commissioner, 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006). “The findings of the Commissioner are not subject to reversal merely because there exists in the record substantial evidence to support a different conclusion. . . . This is so because there is a ‘zone of choice' within which the Commissioner can act without fear of court interference.” Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772-73; see Gayheart v. Commissioner, 710 F.3d 365, 374 (6th Cir. 2013) (“A reviewing court will affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on substantial evidence, even if substantial evidence would have supported the opposite conclusion.”).

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity on or after May 19, 2015, the application date. (Op., 3, ECF No. 8-2, PageID.46). Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “affective disorder, cannabis use disorder, COPD, coronary artery disease status post bypass grafting, class II angina, osteoarthritis of the left knee, obesity, and degenerative changes to the lumbar spine.” (Id.). Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled a listing impairment. (Id. at 4, PageID.47). The ALJ found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) for a range of sedentary work with the following exceptions:

the claimant can lift and/or carry no more than ten pounds at a time and can occasionally lift or carry articles such as docket files, ledgers, and small tools; can stand and/or walk up to two hours in an eight hour workday; can sit up to six hours in an eight hour workday; can frequently push, pull and operate foot controls with left lower extremity; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; can occasionally be exposed to atmospheric conditions, but never in excessive amounts; can never be exposed to dangerous machinery or hazardous heights; can have occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the public; can carry out simple instructions; and is unable to work at a production rate pace, such as on an assembly line.

(Id. at 6-7, PageID.49-50).

         The ALJ found that plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence of record. (Id. at 7, PageID.50). Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 11, PageID.54).

         The ALJ considered the testimony of a vocational expert (VE). In response to a hypothetical question regarding a person of plaintiff's age with her RFC, education, and work experience, the VE testified that there were approximately 90, 000 jobs in the national economy that the hypothetical person would be capable of performing.[1](ECF No. 8-2, PageID.99-105). The ALJ found that this constituted a significant number of jobs and found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Op., 12-13, PageID.55-56).


         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed reversible error when she failed to obtain an expert medical opinion regarding equivalency. ...

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