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Gomez v. Berryhill

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

June 11, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.




         Plaintiff Mary Carmen Gomez (“Gomez”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 USC § 1383(c)(3), challenging the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). (Doc. #1). Both parties have filed summary judgment motions (Docs. #12, #14), which have been referred to this Court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). (Doc. #3).


         For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) conclusion that Gomez is not disabled under the Act. Accordingly, the Court RECOMMENDS that the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #14) be GRANTED, Gomez's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #12) be DENIED, and that pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the ALJ's decision be AFFIRMED.

         II. REPORT

         A. Background

         Gomez was previously found disabled as a child on February 1, 1998, but upon attaining the age of eighteen, her benefits eligibility was redetermined, and, in a decision dated, March 18, 2004, she was deemed no longer disabled under the adult standards. (Tr. 90-96). More recently, Gomez again applied for disability benefits; she filed for DIB and SSI on July 27, 2015, and August 8, 2015, respectively, alleging a disability onset date of January 16, 2013. (Tr. 280-91). Gomez now alleges disability due to diabetes, kidney disease, bipolar affective disorder, and anxiety. Her application was denied initially on November 5, 2015. Gomez then timely requested a hearing, which was then held on April 18, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Rita Elizabeth Foley. (Tr. 31-86). At the hearing, Gomez, represented by counsel, testified, as did impartial Vocational Expert (“VE”) Timothy Shaner. (Id.). On June 15, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision (Tr. 13-25), which Gomez then appealed on August 7, 2017. The Appeals Council denied review on March 28, 2018, and Gomez filed the instant complaint thereafter.

         Gomez has a high school diploma but has no certifications or training in skilled trades. (Tr. 39). In 1998 Gomez had a summer job as a fifteen-year-old at a farm and was employed through a temporary staffing agency in 2010. (Tr. 38). Her total income in 2010 was $60.00. (Id.). Gomez does not have a driver's license. (Tr. 42). She gave birth to twins via an emergency c-section in January of 2013. (Id. at 46). The twins currently reside with their grandparents, but Gomez testified that she is working on having them live with her again. (Id. at 56). Gomez testified that on a typical day she has trouble sleeping, gets up, showers, takes her medications, watches television if she does not have an appointment that day, and takes four to five naps throughout the day. (Tr. 49-50). Gomez testified that she is able to pick up a gallon of milk, a coffee cup, and a paper clip, but that she would be afraid of dropping each. (Tr. 56-57).

         The Court has thoroughly reviewed the record in this matter, including Gomez's medical record, Function Report, 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 record as necessary in its discussion of the parties' arguments.

         B. ALJ application of disability framework

          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 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).

         Following this five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ found that Gomez is not disabled under the Act. At Step One, the ALJ found that Gomez had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 24, 2015. (Tr. 15). At Step Two, the ALJ found that Gomez has the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, diabetic retinopathy, stage 1 chronic kidney disease, nephrotic syndrome, osteoarthritis of the left knee, lumbago, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (CPOD), obesity, bipolar affective disorder with depression features, and anxiety. (Id.). At Step Three, the ALJ found that Gomez's impairments, whether considered alone or in combination, do not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. (Tr. 16).

         The ALJ then assessed Gomez's residual functional capacity[1] (“RFC”), concluding that she is capable of performing sedentary work, except that she is limited to sitting for eight hours out of an eight-hour workday with normal breaks and the ability to get herself to and from the restroom and breaks; requires the option to sit or stand alternatively at will every 20-30 minutes while remaining on task; no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no kneeling or crawling; occasional climbing of ramps or stairs, stooping, crouching, and operation of foot controls on the left; frequent handling, fingering, and feeling bilaterally; no concentrated exposure to environmental irritants such as fumes, odors, dusts and gases and poorly ventilated areas; no exposure to unprotected heights; work is limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks, performed in a work environment free from fast-paced production requirements, involving only simple, work-related decisions, and with few, if any, workplace changes; can interact with the public only occasionally; and would be off task for 10% of the workday in addition to normal breaks. (Tr. 18). After determining that Gomez had no past relevant work, at Step Five, the ALJ found that there are jobs that exists in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform given her RFC. (Tr. 24). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Gomez was not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 25).

         C. Standard of Review

         The 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 ...

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