United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
Honorable Sean F. Cox Judge
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT [12, 16]
R. GRAND UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Scott Dalecke (âDaleckeâ) brings this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. Â§ 405(g), challenging the final decision of Defendant
Commissioner of Social Security (âCommissionerâ) denying his
application for Disability Insurance Benefits (âDIBâ) under
the Social Security Act (the âActâ). Both parties have filed
summary judgment motions (Docs. #12, #16), which have been
referred to this Court for a Report and Recommendation
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Â§ 636(b)(1)(B).
reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) conclusion
that Dalecke is not disabled under the Act is not supported
by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court recommends
that the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc.
#16) be DENIED, that Dalecke's Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. #12) be GRANTED IN PART to the extent it seeks
remand, and DENIED IN PART to the extent it seeks an award of
benefits and that, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this
case be REMANDED to the ALJ for further proceedings
consistent with this Recommendation.
was 48 years old at the time of his alleged onset date of
April 10, 2014, and at 5'8" tall weighed
approximately 300 pounds during the relevant time
period. (Tr. 338). He had obtained his GED and,
prior to filing his instant application for DIB, had most
recently worked as a production line worker and a machine
operator at U.S. Manufacturing building axles for Jeep
Wranglers (Tr. 340, 359). He alleges disability primarily as
a result of back pain. (Tr. 465).
Dalecke's application for DIB was denied at the initial
level on August 28, 2015 (Tr. 379), he timely requested an
administrative hearing, which was held on January 31, 2017,
before ALJ Roy E. LaRoche, Jr. (Tr. 329-365). Dalecke, who
was represented by attorney Nicole M. Winston, testified at
the hearing, as did vocational expert Stephanee A. Leech.
(Id.). On March 29, 2017, the ALJ issued a written
decision finding that Dalecke is not disabled under the Act.
(Tr. 312-324). On April 23, 2018, the Appeals Council denied
review. (Tr. 1-9). Dalecke timely filed for judicial review
of the final decision on June 21, 2018. (Doc. #1).
Court has thoroughly reviewed the transcript in this matter,
including Dalecke's medical record, Function and
Disability Reports, and testimony as to his 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
Dalecke is not disabled under the Act. At Step One, the ALJ
found that Dalecke has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since April 10, 2014, the alleged onset date. (Tr.
314). At Step Two, the ALJ found that he has the severe
impairments of obesity, degenerative disc disease status post
two surgical procedures; left sciatic neuropathy status post
surgery; loss of visual acuity; and diabetes mellitus (20 CFR
404.1520(c)). (Id.). At Step Three, the ALJ found
that Dalecke's impairments, whether considered alone or
in combination, do not meet or medically equal a listed
impairment. (Tr. 315).
then assessed Dalecke's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), finding that he is capable of performing
light work, with the following additional limitations:
occasional operation of foot controls with the bilateral
lower extremities; alternatively sitting/standing at will,
provided he is not off task more than 10% of the workday; no
climbing of ladders, ropes and scaffolds; occasional climbing
of ramps/stairs; occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching, or crawling; no more than occasional exposure to
extreme cold, humidity/wetness, and vibration; no exposure to
unprotected heights or moving mechanical machinery; and no
commercial driving or operation of heavy equipment. (Tr.
315). At Step Four, the ALJ concluded, based in part on
testimony provided by the vocational expert
(“VE”) in response to hypothetical questions,
that Dalecke is not capable of performing his past relevant
work as a production line worker or machine operator (Tr.
323). At Step Five, the ALJ concluded that, considering his
age, education, work experience and RFC, there are jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that
Dalecke can perform at the light level, including bench
assembler (40, 000 jobs), packer (200, 000 jobs) and
inspector (80, 000 jobs). (Tr. 324). As a result, the ALJ
concluded that Dalecke is not disabled under the Act.
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 even if the
reviewing court would decide the matter differently and even
if substantial evidence also supports the opposite
conclusion.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (internal
motion for summary judgment, Dalecke argues that the ALJ
erred: (1) by failing to obtain a medical opinion on the
issue of equivalency as required by SSR 96-6p; (2) by
violating the treating physician rule by improperly weighing
and evaluating the opinion evidence of his treating