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Lewis v. Saul

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

July 1, 2019

TONDRA LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Honorable David M. Lawson, Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [14, 15]

          DAVID R. GRAND UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Tondra Lewis (“Lewis”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), challenging the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application 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. #14, #15), which have been referred to the 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 the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) conclusion that Lewis 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. #15) be DENIED, Lewis's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #14) 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.

         II. REPORT

         A. Background

         Lewis was 51 years old at the time of her amended alleged onset date of July 18, 2016, and at 5'2” tall weighed approximately 190 pounds during the relevant time period. (Tr. 224). She has a high school education and, prior to filing her instant applications for DIB and SSI, had most recently worked for eight years as a monitor or supervisor (housekeeper) for the Salvation Army. (Tr. 37). She alleges disability primarily as a result of gout, arthritis in the knees, and lower back problems. (Tr.224).

         After Lewis's application for DIB and SSI was denied at the initial level on January 16, 2016 (Tr. 76, 77), she timely requested an administrative hearing, which was held on March 30, 2017, before ALJ Lauren Burstein (Tr. 26-56). Lewis, who was represented by attorneys Alari Adams and Andrew S. Youngman (Tr. 13), testified at the hearing, as did vocational expert John N. Stokes (Id.). On June 28, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Lewis is not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 13-21). On March 6, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review. (Tr. 1-8). Lewis timely filed for judicial review of the final decision on April 23, 2018. (Doc. #1).

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

         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 the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ found that Lewis is not disabled under the Act. At Step One, the ALJ found that Lewis has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 18, 2015, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 16). At Step Two, the ALJ found that she has the severe impairments of degenerative arthritis in her knees, hips, and lower back; gout; and obesity. (Id.). At Step Three, the ALJ found that ...


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