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Collins v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 30, 2019


          Laurie J. Michelson United States District Judge.


          Stephanie Dawkins Davis, United States Magistrate Judge.


         A. Proceedings in this Court

         On August 8, 2018, plaintiff Bernard D. Collins 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 Laurie J. Michelson referred this matter to the undersigned for the purpose of reviewing the Commissioner's unfavorable decision denying Collins' claim for disability benefits. (Dkt. 3). This matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. 13, 17).

         B. Administrative Proceedings

         Collins filed an application for supplemental security December 1, 2015, alleging disability beginning on November 19, 2015. (Tr. 18).[1] The claim was initially disapproved by the Commissioner on March 22, 2016. Id. Collins requested a hearing and on August 9, 2017, he appeared with counsel, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Ronald Herman, who considered the case de novo. (Tr. 34-67). In a decision dated February 8, 2018, the ALJ found that Collins was not disabled. (Tr. 15-29). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council, on June 14, 2018, denied Collins' request for review. (Tr. 1-6); Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 543-44 (6th Cir. 2004).

         For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be DENIED, that defendant's motion for summary judgment be GRANTED, and the findings of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.


         A. ALJ Findings

         Collins was born in 1988 and was 27 years old on the date the application was filed. (Tr. 28). He has past relevant work as a fast food worker (light) and machine operator (medium). Id. Collins alleges that he cannot work full-time because of his knee injury, ongoing pain, inability to effectively ambulate, and his inability to sit for very long. (Tr. 37-38). He also says that his medications cause nausea and that he has trouble focusing. Id. He lives with his father. (Tr. 141).

         Following the hearing, the ALJ considered the evidence within the framework of the five-step disability analysis and found at step one that Collins had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his application date. (Tr. 20). At step two, the ALJ found Collins' major joint dysfunction and fracture of the left patella were “severe” within the meaning of the second sequential step. (Tr. 20). The ALJ found that Collins' obesity, uncomplicated mild asthma, and possible anxiety were not severe impairments. (Tr. 20-21). However, at step three, the ALJ found no evidence that his impairments singly or in combination met or medically equaled one of the listings in the regulations. (Tr. 21-22). Thereafter, the ALJ assessed Collins' residual functional capacity (“RFC”) as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except only occasional performance of postural activities such as bending, stooping, crouching, and crawling; requires a cane to ambulate; and requires the option to alternate between sitting and standing every 30 to 60 minutes.

(Tr. 22-23). At step four, the ALJ found that Collins was unable to perform his past relevant work. (Tr. 27). At step five, the ALJ denied benefits because he found that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Collins could perform and thus, he was not disabled through the date of the decision. (Tr. 28-29)


         A. Standard of Review

         In 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).

         This 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 374186, *4.

         If 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 ...

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