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Beavers v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 19, 2019

TERRIE BEAVERS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Honorable Gershwin A. Drain, Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [11, 13]

          DAVID R. GRAND, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Terrie Beavers (“Beavers”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), challenging the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her 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. #11, #13), 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 substantial evidence supports the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) conclusion that Beavers is not disabled under the Act. Accordingly, the Court RECOMMENDS that the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #13) be GRANTED, Beavers's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #11) 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

         Beavers was 60 years old at the time of her alleged onset date of May 14, 2015, and at 5'5” tall weighed approximately 260 pounds during the relevant time period. (Tr. 51, 71). She reported previous work in “follow up, ”[1] and a tax preparer for H&R Block. (Tr. 45-48, 81). She alleges disability primarily as a result of type I diabetes, right leg vein issues, left hand issues, high blood pressure, and a blood disorder. (Tr. 71).

         After Beavers's applications for DIB and SSI were denied at the initial level on June 3, 2016 (Tr. 83), she timely requested an administrative hearing, which was held on August 2, 2017 before ALJ Therese Tobin. (Tr. 39). Beavers, who was represented by attorney Larry R. Maitland, II, testified at the hearing, as did vocational expert Zachary Matthews. (Tr. 39-68). On December 4, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Beavers is not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 28-34). On April 13, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review.[2] (Tr. 1-3). Beavers timely filed for judicial review of the final decision on May 30, 2018. (Doc. #1).

         The Court has thoroughly reviewed the transcript in this matter, including Beavers'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.

         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 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 Beavers is not disabled under the Act. At Step One, the ALJ found that Beavers has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 14, 2015 (the alleged onset date). (Tr. 30). At Step Two, the ALJ found that she has the severe impairments of status-post bilateral knee arthroplasty surgeries, bilateral leg vein obstruction, bilateral plantar fasciitis, left thumb arthritis, history of brain tumor, diabetes, hypertension, anemia, dyslipidemia, and obesity. (Id.). At Step Three, the ALJ found that Beavers's impairments, whether considered alone or in combination, do not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. (Tr. 31).

         The ALJ then assessed Beavers's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), concluding that she is capable of performing sedentary work, with the following additional limitations: Beavers would require a sit or stand option without disturbing the workplace, she would require an assistive device to ambulate during the workday, she could never kneel, crouch, crawl, or climb ladders ropes, or scaffolds. She could occasionally climb ramps or stairs, she ...


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