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Peak v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 23, 2019

CHRISTOPHER A. PEAK, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          HONORABLE THOMAS L. LUDINGTON, JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [19, 21]

          DAVID R. GRAND UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Christopher Peak (“Peak”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), challenging the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). Both parties have filed summary judgment motions (Docs. #19, #21), which have been referred to this Court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) conclusion that Peak is not disabled under the Act is not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court recommends that the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #21) be DENIED, Peak's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #19) be GRANTED IN PART to the extent it seeks remand and DENIED IN PART to the extent it seeks an award of benefits, and that, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this case be REMANDED to the ALJ for further proceedings consistent with this Recommendation.

         II. REPORT

         A. Background

         Peak was 33 years old at the time of his alleged onset date of April 23, 2015, [1]and at 6' tall weighed approximately 150 pounds during the relevant time period. (Tr. 186, 190). He completed high school but had no further education. (Tr. 40, 191). He worked in sales for an auto parts retailer, but stopped working in April 2015 because of back pain, neck pain, and headaches. (Tr. 39, 43, 196). He now alleges disability primarily as a result of these conditions. (Tr. 38-39, 190).

         After Peak's applications for DIB and SSI were denied at the initial level (Tr. 77-93), he timely requested an administrative hearing, which was held on April 11, 2017, before ALJ Timothy Christensen (Tr. 33-54). Peak, who was represented by Dannelly Smith, testified at the hearing, as did vocational expert Scott Silver. (Id.). On August 9, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Peak is not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 20-28). On January 29, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review. (Tr. 1-5). Peak timely filed for judicial review of the final decision on April 10, 2018. (Doc. #1).

         The Court has thoroughly reviewed the transcript in this matter, including Peak's medical record, Function and Disability Reports, and testimony as to his conditions and resulting limitations. Instead of summarizing that information here, the Court will make references and provide citations to the transcript as necessary in its discussion of the parties' arguments.

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

         Under the Act, DIB and SSI are available only for those who have a “disability.” See Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). The Act defines “disability” as 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's regulations provide that a disability is to be determined through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:

Step One: If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Two: If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments that “significantly limits . . . physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, ” benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Three: If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, has a severe impairment that is expected to last for at least twelve months, and the severe impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the regulations, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled regardless of age, education, or work experience.
Step Four: If the claimant is able to perform his or her past relevant work, benefits are denied ...

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