United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
JAMIE A. BENTLEY-CLEARWOOD, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Honorable Mark A. Goldsmith Judge.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO GRANT DEFENDANT'S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT  AND DENY PLAINTIFF'S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT 
R. GRAND UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Jamie A. Bentley-Clearwood (“Bentley-Clearwood”)
brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
challenging the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her
application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (the
“Act”). Both parties have filed summary judgment
motions (Docs. #15, #17), which have been referred to this
Court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) conclusion
that Bentley-Clearwood is not disabled under the Act is
supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court
recommends that the Commissioner's Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. #17) be
GRANTED, that Bentley-Clearwood's Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. #15) be
DENIED, and that, pursuant to sentence four
of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the ALJ's
decision be AFFIRMED.
was 47 years old at the time of her alleged onset date of
January 15, 2016 (amended at the hearing to April 7, 2016
(Tr. 41)), and at 5'4" tall weighed approximately
171 pounds. (Tr. 26, 45). She completed three years of
college and, prior to filing her instant application for DIB,
had most recently worked as a customer service
representative. (Tr. 45, 56-57). This role encompassed the
responsibilities of an ordering clerk and required her to
lead conference calls or conduct online communications with
suppliers and engineers. (Tr. 57). She alleges disability
primarily as a result of depression and anxiety. (Tr. 46-47).
Bentley-Clearwood's application for DIB was denied at the
initial level on August 22, 2016 (Tr. 65), she requested an
administrative hearing, which was held on December 13, 2017,
before ALJ Dennis Matulewicz. (Tr. 31-64). Bentley-Clearwood,
who was represented by attorney Gregory Frye, testified at
the hearing, as did vocational expert Cheryl Mosley.
(Id.). On January 25, 2018, the ALJ issued a written
decision finding that Bentley-Clearwood is not disabled under
the Act. (Tr. 17-27). On May 24, 2018, the Appeals Council
denied review. (Tr. 1-6). Bentley-Clearwood timely filed for
judicial review of the final decision on July 19, 2018. (Doc.
Court has thoroughly reviewed the transcript in this matter,
including Bentley-Clearwood's medical record, Function
and Disability Reports, and testimony as to her 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.
The ALJ's Application of the Disability Framework
the Act, DIB 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). The
Commissioner's regulations provide that a disability is
to be determined through the application of a five-step
Step One: If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity, benefits are denied without further
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
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 without further analysis.
Step Five: Even if the claimant is unable to perform his or
her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national
economy that the claimant can perform, in view of his or her
age, education, and work experience, benefits are denied.
Scheuneman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2011 WL
6937331, at *7 (E.D. Mich. Dec. 6, 2011) (citing 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520); see also Heston v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001). “The
burden of proof is on the claimant throughout the first four
steps.... If the analysis reaches the fifth step without a
finding that claimant is not disabled, the burden transfers
to the [defendant].” Preslar v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).
this five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ found that
Bentley-Clearwood is not disabled under the Act. At Step One,
the ALJ found that Bentley-Clearwood has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since January 15, 2016. (Tr.
19). At Step Two, the ALJ found that she has the severe
impairments of obesity, asthma, essential hypertension,
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), affective
disorder/depression, and anxiety disorder. (Tr. 20). At Step
Three, the ALJ found that Bentley-Clearwood's
impairments, whether considered alone or in combination, do
not meet or medically equal a listed impairment.
then assessed Bentley-Clearwood's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), concluding that she is capable
of performing light work, with the following additional
limitations: she cannot use ladders or scaffolds; she must
avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat, cold, wetness,
humidity, vibrations, fumes, odors, dust, gases, and poor
ventilation; and she cannot work with hazards including
dangerous/unprotected machinery or work at unprotected
heights. (Tr. 21). She is limited to simple, unskilled work
with a specific vocational preparation (“SVP”) of
one or two with occasional contact or discussion with
coworkers or the general public; limited to routine work that
does not require changes or adaptations in work settings or
general duties more than once per month; and limited to jobs
without production quotas mandating a specific number of
pieces per hour, or with a down line coworker depending on
her productivity. (Id.). At Step Four, the ALJ
concluded, based in part on testimony provided by the
vocational expert (“VE”) in response to
hypothetical questions, that Bentley-Clearwood is not capable
of performing her past relevant work as a customer service
representative. (Tr. 25). At Step Five, the ALJ concluded
that, considering her age, education, work experience and
RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that Bentley-Clearwood can perform at the
light level, including garment sorter (200, 000 jobs) and
inspector (830, 000 jobs) and at the sedentary level,
including final assembler (200, 000 jobs) and nut sorter
(450, 000 jobs). (Tr. 26). As a result, the ALJ concluded
that Bentley-Clearwood is not disabled under the Act. (Tr.
Standard of Review
District Court has jurisdiction to review the
Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Judicial review under this statute
is limited in that the court “must affirm the
Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that
the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal
standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by
substantial evidence in the record.” Longworth v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir.
2005) (internal citations omitted). Substantial evidence is
“more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a
preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241
(6th Cir. 2007) (internal quotations omitted). In deciding
whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision,
the court does “not try the case de novo,
resolve conflicts in evidence or decide questions of
credibility.” Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506,
509 (6th Cir. 2007).
reviewing the Commissioner's factual findings, the court
is limited to an examination of the record and must consider
the record as a whole. See Bass, 499 F.3d at 512-13;
Wyatt v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 974
F.2d 680, 683 (6th Cir. 1992). The court “may look to
any evidence in the record, regardless of whether it has been
cited by the Appeals Council, ” or in this case, the
ALJ. Heston, 245 F.3d at 535; Walker v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 884 F.2d 241,
245 (6th Cir. 1989). There is no requirement, however, that
either the ALJ or this court discuss every piece of evidence
in the administrative record. See Kornecky v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 167 Fed.Appx. 496, 508 (6th Cir. 2006)
(“[A]n ALJ can consider all evidence without directly
addressing in his written decision every piece of evidence
submitted by a party.”) (internal quotations omitted).
If the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence, “it must be affirmed ...