United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
S. CARMODY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
an action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's
claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II
of the Social Security Act. The parties have agreed to
proceed in this Court for all further proceedings, including
an order of final judgment. Section 405(g) limits the Court
to a review of the administrative record and provides that if
the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence it shall be conclusive. The Commissioner has found
that Plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act.
For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that the
Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence. Accordingly, the Commissioner's decision is
vacated and the matter remanded for further factual findings
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Court's jurisdiction is confined to a review of the
Commissioner's decision and of the record made in the
administrative hearing process. See Will banks v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 847 F.2d 301,
303 (6th Cir. 1988). The scope of judicial review in a social
security case is limited to determining whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in making her
decision and whether there exists in the record substantial
evidence supporting that decision. See Brainard v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 889 F.2d 679,
681 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court may not conduct a de novo
review of the case, resolve evidentiary conflicts, or decide
questions of credibility. See Garner v. Heckler, 745
F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). It is the Commissioner who is
charged with finding the facts relevant to an application for
disability benefits, and her findings are conclusive provided
they are supported by substantial evidence. See42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance. See Cohen v. Sec'y of Dep't of
Health and Human Services, 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir.
1992) (citations omitted). It is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
401 (1971); Bogle v. Sullivan, 998 F.2d 342, 347
(6th Cir. 1993). In determining the sub stantiality of the
evidence, the Court must consider the evidence on the record
as a whole and take into account whatever in the record
fairly detracts from its weight. See Richard son v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 735 F.2d 962,
963 (6th Cir. 1984). As has been widely recognized, the
substantial evidence standard presupposes the existence of a
zone within which the decision maker can properly rule either
way, without judicial interference. See Mullen v.
Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (citation
omitted). This standard affords to the administrative
decision maker considerable latitude, and indicates that a
decision supported by substantial evidence will not be
reversed simply because the evidence would have supported a
contrary decision. See Bogle, 998 F.2d at 347;
Mullen, 800 F.2d at 545.
was 42 years of age on her alleged disability onset date and
43 years of age on the date her disability insurance status
expired. (PageID.36, 169). Plaintiff successfully completed
high school and worked previously as a circuit board
inspector. (PageID.40-41). Plaintiff applied for benefits on
October 29, 2015, alleging that she had been disabled since
April 1, 2014, due to osteopenia, arthritis, lower back
problems, and insomnia. (PageID.34, 169-75). Plaintiff's
application was denied, after which time she requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
26, 2017, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Colleen Mamelka with
testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a vocational expert.
(PageID.47-76). In a written decision dated October 25, 2017,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(PageID.34-42). The Appeals Council declined to review the
ALJ's determination, rendering it the Commissioner's
final decision in the matter. (PageID.20-24). Plaintiff
subsequently initiated this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of the ALJ's
OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a-f), 416.920(a-f). If the
Commissioner can make a dispositive finding at any point in
the review, no further finding is required. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The regulations
also provide that if a claimant suffers from a nonexertional
impairment as well as an exertional impairment, both are
considered in determining her residual functional capacity.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545, 416.945.
burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely
on Plaintiff's shoulders, and she can satisfy her burden
by demonstrating that her impairments are so severe that she
is unable to perform her previous work, and cannot,
considering her age, education, and work experience, perform
any other substantial gainful employment existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. See 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Cohen, 964 F.2d at 528.
While the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step
five, Plaintiff bears the burden of proof through step four
of the procedure, the point at which her residual functioning
capacity (RFC) is determined. See Bowen v. Yuckert,
482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); Walters v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997) (ALJ
determines RFC at step four, at which point claimant bears
the burden of proof).
determined that as of the date Plaintiff's insured status
expired, Plaintiff suffered from: (1) grade 1 anterolisthesis
of L5-S1; (2) bilateral pars defect; (3) bilateral neural
foraminal stenosis; (4) degenerative joint disease; (5)
reflex sympathetic dystrophy; and (6) spondylosis, severe
impairments that whether considered alone or in combination
with other impairments, failed to satisfy the requirements of
any impairment identified in the Listing of Impairments
detailed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
respect to Plaintiffs residual functional capacity, the ALJ
determined that as of the date Plaintiffs insured status
expired, Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform sedentary
work subject to the following limitations: (1) she must be
able to sit/stand at will, but will not be off task more than
ten percent of the work day; (2) she can occasionally
balance, kneel, crouch, crawl, and push/pull with her lower
extremities; (3) she can never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; and (4) she can never work at unprotected heights
or be around moving machinery. (PageID.37).
found that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant
work at which point the burden of proof shifted to the
Commissioner to establish by substantial evidence that a
significant number of jobs exist in the national economy
which Plaintiff could perform, her limitations
notwithstanding. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964.
While the ALJ is not required to question a vocational expert
on this issue, ''a finding supported by substantial
evidence that a claimant has the vocational qualifications to
perform specific jobs" is needed to meet the
burden. O Banner v. Secy of Health and Human
Services, 587 F.2d 321, 323 (6th Cir. 1978) (emphasis
added). This standard requires more than mere intuition or
conjecture by the ALJ that the claimant can perform specific
jobs in the national economy. See Richardson, 735
F.2d at 964. Accordingly, ALJs routinely question vocational
experts in an attempt to determine whether there exist a
significant number of jobs which a particular claimant can
perform, her limitations notwithstanding. Such was the case
here, as the ALJ questioned a vocational expert.
vocational expert testified that there existed approximately
80, 000 jobs in the national economy which an individual with
Plaintiff's RFC could perform, such limitations
notwithstanding. (PageID.72-74). This represents a
significant number of jobs. See, e.g., Taskila v.
Commissioner of Social Security, 819 F.3d 902, 905 (6th
Cir. 2016) (“[s]ix thousand jobs in the ...