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Mitchell v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

April 19, 2019

Lisa Mitchell, 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. § 405(g), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance benefits (DIB). On April 14, 2015, plaintiff filed her application for DIB benefits. She alleged an April 1, 2015, onset of disability. (ECF No. 7-5, PageID.203). Plaintiff's claim was denied on initial review. (ECF No. 7-4, PageID.123-30). On May 18, 2017, plaintiff received a hearing before the ALJ. (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.71-102). The ALJ issued her decision on October 12, 2017, finding that plaintiff was not disabled. (Op., ECF No. 7-2, PageID.53-66). On June 5, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.24-27), 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, 8, ECF No. 11, PageID.1139). 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 met the disability insured requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2019. (Op., 3, ECF No. 7-2, PageID.55). The ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity on or after April 1, 2015. (Id.). Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, asthma, obesity, and migraines.” (Id.). Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled a listing impairment. (Id. at 4, PageID.56). The ALJ found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) for a range of sedentary work with the following exceptions:

she can only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants, including extreme temperatures, humidity, fumes, odors, dust[, ] gases and poor ventilation. She is limited simple, unskilled work in a low stress environment, which is defined as having only occasional changes in work setting, and requiring no more than occasional decision-making. She must be permitted to use a cane while ambulating and she must be allowed the option to sit or stand every thirty minutes for five minutes at a time.

(Id. at 6, PageID.58).

         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.59). Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 12, PageID.64).

         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 1, 275, 000 jobs in the national economy that the hypothetical person would be capable of performing. (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.98-100). The ALJ found that this constituted a significant number of jobs and found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Op., 13-14, PageID.65-66).


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

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