United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
S. Carmody U.S. 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) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI 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 supported by substantial
evidence. Accordingly, the Commissioner's decision is
Court's jurisdiction is confined to a review of the
Commissioner's decision and of the record made in the
administrative hearing process. See Willbanks 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. See 42
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 substantiality 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 Richardson 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 53 years of age on her alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.198). She successfully completed high school, but has
no past relevant work experience. (PageID.47). Plaintiff
applied for benefits on May 12, 2015, alleging that she had
been disabled since December 1, 2014, due to anxiety,
depression, dependent personality disorder, and histrionic
personality disorder. (PageID.198-212, 244). Plaintiff's
applications were denied, after which time she requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
October 17, 2017, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Christopher
Mattia with testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a
vocational expert. (PageID.54-81). In a written decision
dated January 10, 2018, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was
not disabled. (PageID.36-48). The Appeals Council declined to
review the ALJ's determination, rendering it the
Commissioner's final decision in the matter.
(PageID.27-32). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this appeal
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review
of the ALJ's decision.
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), 416.920(a). 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 Plaintiff suffers from: (1) major depressive
disorder; (2) generalized anxiety disorder; (3) dependent
personality disorder; and (4) gambling disorder, 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 Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform
work subject to the following limitations: (1) she can
understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions; (2)
she can make simple work-related decisions; (3) she can
occasionally interact with supervisors, co-workers, and the
public; (4) she can occasionally deal with changes in a
routine work setting; and (5) she can perform work that does
not require a production line pace or where her
co-workers' productivity is dependent upon her
found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work experience 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
61, 000 light exertional jobs in the national economy which
an individual with Plaintiffs RFC could perform, such
limitations notwithstanding. (PageID.74-77). 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 ...