United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
S. CARMODY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's
claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of
the Social Security Act. The parties have agreed to proceed
in this Court for all further proceedings, including an order
of final judgment. Section 405(g) limits the Court to a
review of the administrative record and provides that if the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence it shall be conclusive. The Commissioner has found
that Plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act.
For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence. Accordingly, the Commissioner's decision is
Court's jurisdiction is confined to a review of the
Commissioner's decision and of the record made in the
administrative hearing process. See Willbanks v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 847 F.2d 301,
303 (6th Cir. 1988). The scope of judicial review in a social
security case is limited to determining whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in making her
decision and whether there exists in the record substantial
evidence supporting that decision. See Brainard
v.Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 889 F.2d 679,
681 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court may not conduct a de novo
review of the case, resolve evidentiary conflicts, or decide
questions of credibility. See Garner v. Heckler, 745
F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984). It is the Commissioner who is
charged with finding the facts relevant to an application for
disability benefits, and her findings are conclusive provided
they are supported by substantial evidence. See 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance. See Cohenv.Sec'y of Dep't of
Health and Human Services, 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir.
1992) (citations omitted). It is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
401 (1971); Bogle v. Sullivan, 998 F.2d 342, 347
(6th Cir. 1993). In determining the substantiality of the
evidence, the Court must consider the evidence on the record
as a whole and take into account whatever in the record
fairly detracts from its weight. SeeRichardson v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 735 F.2d 962,
963 (6th Cir. 1984). As has been widely recognized, the
substantial evidence standard presupposes the existence of a
zone within which the decision maker can properly rule either
way, without judicial interference. See Mullen v.
Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (citation
omitted). This standard affords to the administrative
decision maker considerable latitude, and indicates that a
decision supported by substantial evidence will not be
reversed simply because the evidence would have supported a
contrary decision. See Bogle, 998 F.2d at 347;
Mullen, 800 F.2d at 545.
was 32 years of age on her alleged disability onset date.
(PageID.223). She successfully completed two years of college
and worked previously as a registered nurse. (PageID.53,
281). Plaintiff applied for benefits on July 29, 2015,
alleging that she had been disabled since December 15, 2008,
due to bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder,
anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), asthma,
pinched nerve in her neck, gastroesophageal reflux disease
(GERD), and hypothyroidism. (PageID.223-35, 280).
applications were denied initially after which she requested
a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
(PageID.114-221). On September 8, 2017, Plaintiff appeared
before ALJ Richard Horowitz with testimony being offered by
Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (PageID.61-112). In a
written decision dated January 30, 2018, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.38-55). The Appeals
Council declined to review the ALJ's determination,
rendering it the Commissioner's final decision in the
matter. (PageID.26-30). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this
appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial
review of the ALJ's decision.
insured status expired on June 30, 2015. (Tr. 41).
Accordingly, to be eligible for Disability Insurance Benefits
under Title II of the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must
establish that she became disabled prior to the expiration of
her insured status. See 42 U.S.C. § 423;
Moon v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1175, 1182 (6th Cir.
OF THE ALJ'S DECISION
social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability. See 20 C.F.R.
'' 404.1520(a-f), 416.920(a-f). If the
Commissioner can make a dispositive finding at any point in
the review, no further finding is required. See 20
C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The regulations
also provide that if a claimant suffers from a nonexertional
impairment as well as an exertional impairment, both are
considered in determining her residual functional capacity.
See 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1545, 416.945.
burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely
on Plaintiff's shoulders, and she can satisfy her burden
by demonstrating that her impairments are so severe that she
is unable to perform her previous work, and cannot,
considering her age, education, and work experience, perform
any other substantial gainful employment existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. See 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Cohen, 964 F.2d at 528.
While the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step
five, Plaintiff bears the burden of proof through step four
of the procedure, the point at which her residual functioning
capacity (RFC) is determined. See Bowen v. Yuckert,
482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); Walters v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997) (ALJ
determines RFC at step four, at which point claimant bears
the burden of proof).
determined that Plaintiff suffered from: (1) obesity; (2)
asthma; (3) right Achilles tendon rupture post-surgery; (4)
mild bilateral median neuropathy; (5) minor cervical
degenerative changes; and (6) mental impairments variously
described as depression, anxiety, PTSD, borderline
personality disorder, alcohol abuse, and cannabis abuse,
severe impairments that whether considered alone or in
combination with other impairments, failed to satisfy the
requirements of any impairment identified in the Listing of
Impairments detailed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (PageID.41-44).
respect to Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the capacity to
perform light work subject to the following limitations: (1)
she can occasionally use right foot controls; (2) she can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but can never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (3) she can frequently balance
and stoop and occasionally kneel, crouch, and crawl; (4) she
can occasionally work in conditions of humidity or wetness,
where there is concentrated exposure to dust, odors, fumes,
or other pulmonary irritants, in extreme cold and heat, and
where there are vibrations; (5) she can occasionally reach
overhead with both arms, and frequently reach in all other
directions with both arms; (6) she can frequently handle and
finger with the bilateral hands; (7) she can never work
around hazards, such as unprotected heights or around moving
mechanical parts; (8) she is limited to simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks but not at a production rate pace (e.g., no
assembly line work); (9) she is limited to making simple,
work-related decisions; (10) she can respond appropriately to
occasional interaction with supervisors and co-workers, with
no team or tandem work with co-workers, and no interaction
with the general public; (11) she is limited to tolerating
few changes in the work setting, defined as routine job
duties that remain static and are performed in a stable,
predictable work setting; and (12) any work changes need to
occur infrequently and be adequately and easily explained.
found that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant
work at which point the burden of proof shifted to the
Commissioner to establish by substantial evidence that a
significant number of jobs exist in the national economy
which Plaintiff could perform, her limitations
notwithstanding. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964.
While the ALJ is not required to question a vocational expert
on this issue, Aa finding supported by substantial evidence
that a claimant has the vocational qualifications to perform
specific jobs" is needed to meet the burden.
O'Banner v. Secy of Health and Human Services,
587 F.2d 321, 323 (6th Cir. 1978) (emphasis added). This
standard requires more than mere intuition or conjecture by
the ALJ that the claimant can perform specific jobs in the
national economy. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964.
Accordingly, ALJs routinely question vocational experts in an
attempt to determine whether there exist a significant number
of jobs which a particular claimant can perform, her
limitations notwithstanding. Such was the case here, as the
ALJ questioned a vocational expert.
vocational expert testified that there existed more than one
million jobs in the national economy which an individual with
Plaintiffs RFC could perform, such limitations
notwithstanding. (PageID.104-09). This represents a
significant number of jobs. See, e.g., Taskila v.
Commissioner of Social Security, 819 F.3d 902, 905 (6th
Cir. 2016) (“[s]ix thousand jobs in the United States
fits comfortably within what this court and others have
deemed ‘significant'”). The vocational expert
further testified that if Plaintiff were further limited to
sedentary work, there still existed approximately 324, 000
jobs which she could perform. (PageID.110).
addition to the testimony presented at the administrative
hearing, the administrative record contains copies of