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Sanders v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 9, 2019

CORONDA S. SANDERS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ARTHUR J. TARNOW, DISTRICT JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (R. 16 & 19)

          Patricia T. Morris, United States Magistrate Judge

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         In light of the entire record in this case, I suggest that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's determination that Plaintiff is not disabled. Accordingly, IT IS RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, (R. 16), be DENIED, the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment, (R. 19), be GRANTED, and this case be AFFIRMED.

         II. REPORT

         A. Introduction and Procedural History

         This is an action for judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Coronda Sanders's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. (R. 1). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), E.D. Mich. LR 72.1(b)(3), and by Notice of Reference, this case was referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. Currently before the Court are Plaintiff's and Defendant's cross-motions for summary judgment (R. 16, 19).

         Plaintiff filed the application for DIB on May 10, 2016, alleging onset on January 21, 2015. (R.12 at PageID.165.) Her claim was denied at the initial level on July 13, 2016. (R.12 at PageID.96.) After an administrative hearing was held at Plaintiff's request, (R.12 at PageID.60), Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Latanya White Richards issued a decision finding that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from her alleged onset date of January 21, 2015, through the date of the decision, February 27, 2018. (R.12 at PageID.56.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R.12 at PageID.38-40.) This action followed. (R. 1).

         B. Standard of Review

         The district court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The district court's review is restricted solely to determining whether the “Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.” Sullivan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 595 F App'x. 502, 506 (6th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks 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 quotation marks omitted).

         The Court must examine the administrative record as a whole, and may consider any evidence in the record, regardless of whether it has been cited by the ALJ. See Walker v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 884 F.2d 241, 245 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court will not “try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility.” Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). 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.” Id.

         C. Framework for Disability Determinations

         Under the Act, “DIB . . . [is] available only for those who have a ‘disability.'” Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). “Disability” means 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 [twelve] months.

42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (DIB); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a) (SSI). The Commissioner's regulations provide that disability is to be determined through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:

(i) At the first step, we consider your work activity, if any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will find that you are not disabled. . . .
(ii) At the second step, we consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you do not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that meets the duration requirement . . . or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are not disabled. . . .
(iii) At the third step, we also consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you have an impairment(s) that meets or equals one of our listings in appendix 1 of this subpart and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are disabled. . . .
(iv) At the fourth step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your past relevant work. If you can still do your past relevant work, we will find that you are not disabled. . . .
(v) At the fifth and last step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your age, education, and work experience to see if you can make an adjustment to other work. If you can make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are not disabled. If you cannot make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are disabled.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. See also Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001). “Through step four, the claimant bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by [his or] her impairments and the fact that [he or] she is precluded from performing her past relevant work.” Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003). A claimant must establish a medically determinable physical or mental impairment (expected to last at least twelve months or result in death) that rendered him or her unable to engage in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The burden transfers to the Commissioner if the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that the claimant is not disabled. Combs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 459 F.3d 640, 643 (6th Cir. 2006). At the fifth step, the Commissioner is required to show that “other jobs in significant numbers exist in the national economy that [the claimant] could perform given [his or] her RFC [residual functional capacity] and considering relevant vocational factors.” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 241 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), (g)).

         D. ALJ Findings

         Following the five-step sequential analysis, at step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2020, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 21, 2015, the alleged onset date. (R.12 at PageID.49.) Next, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: status post-fracture of the proximal tibia, pelvis, and right distal femur, and obesity. (Id.) Plaintiff did not, however, have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (R.12 at PageID.50-51.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work. (R.12 at PageID.55.) Finally, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), except that she could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but cannot climb ladders or scaffolds, kneel, crouch, or crawl;

occasionally stoop; must avoid use of hazardous machinery and exposure to unprotected heights; avoid balancing on narrow, slippery, or moving surfaces; no commercial driving; requires a cane for ambulation; and needs a sit or stand option at will while remaining on task.

(R.12 at PageID.51.) The ALJ further found that jobs that she could perform existed in significant numbers in the national economy. The ALJ noted that the vocational expert's (VE's) testimony was consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) but that the DOT is silent on use ...


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