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Grandowicz-Racz v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 12, 2019





         Plaintiff Mary Ann Grandowicz-Racz appeals a 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. Both parties have filed summary judgment motions, referred to this Court for a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). After review of the record, the Court finds that the administrative law judge's (ALJ) decision is supported by substantial evidence, and thus RECOMMENDS that:

• Grandowicz-Racz's motion [ECF No. 14] be DENIED;
• the Commissioner's motion [ECF No. 20] be GRANTED; and
• the ALJ's decision be AFFIRMED pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Grandowicz-Racz's Background and Disability Applications

         Born November 18, 1972, Grandowicz-Racz was 40 years old on the alleged disability onset date of October 2, 2013. [ECF No. 7-2, Tr. 10, 26]. She has past relevant work as a night stock supervisor, stock supervisor-retail, assistant retail manager and customer service representative. [Id., at Tr. 26]. Grandowicz-Racz claims disability due to scoliosis, Crohn's disease, fatigue, colitis, and lupus. [ECF No. 7-6, Tr. 283].

         After a hearing in September, 2016, during which Grandowicz-Racz and a vocational expert (VE) testified, the ALJ found that she was not disabled. [ECF No. 7-2, Tr. 10-99]. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. [Id., Tr. 1-6]. Grandowicz-Racz timely filed for judicial review. [ECF No. 1].

         B. The ALJ's Application of the Disability Framework Analysis

         A “disability” is 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);1382c(a)(3)(A).

         The Commissioner determines whether an applicant is disabled by analyzing five sequential steps. First, if the applicant is “doing substantial gainful activity, ” he or she will be found not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4); 416.920(a)(4).[1] Second, if the claimant has not had a severe impairment or a combination of such impairments for a continuous period of at least 12 months, no disability will be found. Id. Third, if the claimant's severe impairments meet or equal the criteria of an impairment set forth in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments, the claimant will be found disabled. Id. If the fourth step is reached, the Commissioner considers its assessment of the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), and will find the claimant not disabled if he or she can still do past relevant work. Id. At the final step, the Commissioner reviews the claimant's RFC, age, education and work experiences, and determines whether the claimant could adjust to other work. Id. The claimant bears the burden of proof throughout the first four steps, but the burden shifts to the Commissioner if the fifth step is reached. Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).

         Applying this framework, the ALJ concluded that Grandowicz-Racz was not disabled. At the first step, she found that Grandowicz-Racz had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of October 2, 2013. [ECF No. 7-2, Tr. 13]. At the second step, she found that Grandowicz-Racz had the severe impairments of “Crohn's disease, Crohn's-related arthritis/inflammatory arthritis; lumbar degenerative disc disease; and psychological conditions variously described as anxiety and depression.” [Id.]. Next, the ALJ concluded that none of her impairments, either alone or in combination, met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. [Id., Tr. 14-17].

         Between the third and fourth steps, the ALJ found that Grandowicz-Racz had the RFC to perform sedentary work in that:

[She] can lift, carry, push and pull 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently. She can sit for 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday and can stand and/or walk for 2 hours out of an 8-hour workday. She must have the ability to alternate between sitting and standing, at her option, every thirty minutes for one to two minutes so long as she is not off task, or has to leave the vicinity of her work station. [She] can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, crouch, kneel, stoop, and crawl. She can frequently reach overhead with her bilateral upper extremities, occasionally to the rear, and can frequently bilaterally handle, operate hand controls and push and pull. She can have only occasional exposure to extreme cold, hot, humidity and wetness. She cannot be exposed to vibrations associated with the upper or lower extremities. She cannot walk on uneven terrain or work around unprotected heights or unprotected moving mechanical machinery. She can understand, remember and carry out simple, routine tasks, make judgments on simple work, and respond appropriately to usual work situations and ...

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