United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
TRACIE V. THERRIEN, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
A. Goldsmith United States District Judge.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT (DKT. 14, 16)
Stephanie Dawkins Davis United States Magistrate Judge.
Proceedings in this Court
September 21, 2018, plaintiff Tracie V. Therrien filed the
instant suit. (Dkt. 1). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72.1(b)(3), District Judge Mark
A. Goldsmith referred this matter to the undersigned to
review the Commissioner's unfavorable decision denying
Therrien's claim for disability benefits. (Dkt. 3). This
matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary
judgment. (Dkt. 14, 16). Therrien also filed a reply in
support of her motion. (Dkt. 17).
7, 2015, Therrien filed applications for supplemental
security income and for disability insurance and period of
disability benefits, alleging disability beginning on
September 30, 2013. (Tr. 10). The claim was initially
disapproved by the Commissioner on August 8, 2015.
Id. Therrien requested a hearing and on October 12,
2017, she appeared, via video teleconference, with counsel
present, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Christopher J. Mattia, who considered the case de
novo. (Tr. 28-58). In a decision dated December 29,
2017, the ALJ found that Therrien was not disabled. (Tr.
7-23). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of
the Commissioner when the Appeals Council, on July 29, 2018,
denied Therrien's request for review. (Tr. 1-6);
Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541,
543-44 (6th Cir. 2004).
reasons set forth below, the undersigned
RECOMMENDS that the Court
GRANT plaintiff's motion for summary
judgment, DENY defendant's motion for
summary judgment, REVERSE the findings of
the Commissioner, and REMAND this matter for
further proceedings under Sentence Four.
was born in 1968 was 49 years old on the date of the hearing
before the ALJ. (Tr. 34). Her date last insured was December
31, 2016. (Tr. 31, 124). She has past relevant work as a
janitor, which is unskilled and medium exertion level. (Tr.
21). She also has work experience as an adult foster
caregiver, housekeeper, and restaurant server. (Tr. 21, 243,
246). She stopped working on September 30, 2013 when she was
hospitalized because of her schizoaffective disorder,
psychosis, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD),
post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety. (Tr. 183).
applied the five-step disability analysis and found at step
one that Therrien had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the amended alleged onset date. (Tr. 12). At
step two, the ALJ found that Therrien's schizoaffective
disorder, OCD, anxiety, and alcohol dependence in remission
were “severe” within the meaning of the second
sequential step. (Tr. 13). However, at step three, the ALJ
found no evidence that her impairments singly or in
combination met or medically equaled one of the listings in
the regulations. (Tr. 14). Thereafter, the ALJ assessed
Therrien's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) as follows:
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that
the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the
following non-exertional limitations: the claimant is limited
to understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions;
make simple work-related decisions; occasionally interact
with supervisors, co-workers and the public; occasionally
deal with changes in a routine, work setting; and perform
work that does not require a production line pace, where
co-workers' productivity is dependent on the
(Tr. 15). At step four, the ALJ found that Therrien was able
to perform her past relevant work as a janitor and therefore,
denied benefits. (Tr. 21). In the alternative, at step five,
the ALJ found that there were jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that Therrien can perform and
thus, she was not disabled from December 16, 2013 through the
date of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 21-22)
Standard of Review
enacting the social security system, Congress created a
two-tiered system in which the administrative agency handles
claims, and the judiciary merely reviews the agency
determination for exceeding statutory authority or for being
arbitrary and capricious. Sullivan v. Zebley, 493
U.S. 521 (1990). The administrative process itself is
multifaceted in that a state agency makes an initial
determination that can be appealed first to the agency
itself, then to an ALJ, and finally to the Appeals Council.
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137 (1987). If relief is
not found during this administrative review process, the
claimant may file an action in federal district court.
Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 537 (6th Cir.1986).
Court has original jurisdiction to review the
Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Judicial review 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); Walters v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). In
deciding whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
decision, “we do 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); Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d
383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). “It is of course for the ALJ,
and not the reviewing court, to evaluate the credibility of
witnesses, including that of the claimant.” Rogers
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 247 (6th Cir.
2007); Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d
469, 475 (6th Cir. 2003) (an “ALJ is not required to
accept a claimant's subjective complaints and may . . .
consider the credibility of a claimant when making a
determination of disability.”); Walters, 127
F.3d at 531 (“Discounting credibility to a certain
degree is appropriate where an ALJ finds contradictions among
medical reports, claimant's testimony, and other
evidence.”). “However, the ALJ is not free to
make credibility determinations based solely upon an
‘intangible or intuitive notion about an
individual's credibility.'” Rogers,
486 F.3d at 247, quoting Soc. Sec. Rul. 96-7p, 1996 WL
supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's
findings of fact are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Therefore, this Court may not reverse the Commissioner's
decision merely because it disagrees or because “there
exists in the record substantial evidence to support a
different conclusion.” McClanahan v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006); Mullen
v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (en
banc). 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, 486
F.3d at 241; Jones, 336 F.3d at 475. “The
substantial evidence standard presupposes that there is a
‘zone of choice' within which the Commissioner may
proceed without interference from the courts.”
Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1035 (6th Cir. 1994)
(citations omitted) (citing Mullen, 800 F.2d at
scope of this Court's review is limited to an examination
of the record only. Bass, 499 F.3d at 512-13;
Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 357 (6th Cir. 2001).
When reviewing the Commissioner's factual findings for
substantial evidence, a reviewing court must consider the
evidence in the record as a whole, including evidence which
might subtract from its weight. Wyatt v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 974 F.2d 680, 683
(6th Cir. 1992). “Both the court of appeals and the
district court may look to any evidence in the record,
regardless of whether it has been cited by the Appeals
Council.” Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
245 F.3d 528, 535 (6th Cir. 2001). There is no requirement,
however, that either the ALJ or the reviewing court discuss
every piece of evidence in the administrative record.
Kornecky v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 167 Fed.Appx.
496, 508 (6th Cir. 2006) (“[a]n ALJ can consider all
the evidence without directly addressing in his written
decision every piece of evidence submitted by a
party.”) (internal citation marks omitted); see
also Van Der Maas v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 198
Fed.Appx. 521, 526 (6th Cir. 2006).
“[c]laimant bears the burden of proving his entitlement
to benefits.” Boyes v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 46 F.3d 510, 512 (6th Cir. 1994);
accord, Bartyzel v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 74 Fed.Appx. 515, 524 (6th Cir. 2003). There are
several benefits programs under the Act, including the
Disability Insurance Benefits Program of Title II (42 U.S.C.
§§ 401 et seq.) and the Supplemental
Security Income Program of Title XVI (42 U.S.C. §§
1381 et seq.). Title II benefits are available to
qualifying wage earners who become disabled prior to the
expiration of their insured status; Title XVI benefits are
available to poverty-stricken adults and children who become
disabled. F. Bloch, Federal Disability Law and Practice
§ 1.1 (1984). While the two programs have different
eligibility requirements, “DIB and SSI are available
only for those who have a ‘disability.'”
Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir.
2007). “Disability” means:
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 ...