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Whitfield v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

July 25, 2019

TOM WHITFIELD, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON DISTRICT JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO DENY PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DE 15), GRANT DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DE 17) AND AFFIRM THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          ANTHONY P. PATTI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that the Court DENY Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (DE 15), GRANT Defendant's motion for summary judgment (DE 17), and AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

         II. REPORT

         Plaintiff, Tom Whitfield, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for disability insurance (DI) benefits prior to July 5, 2017, his 55th birthday. This matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation on Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (DE 15), the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment (DE 17), Plaintiff's reply (DE 18) and the administrative record (DE 9).

         A. Background and Administrative History

         Plaintiff turned 50 years of age on July 5, 2012, at which point he became a “[p]erson closely approaching advanced age.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(d), 416.963(d). From July 2012 to August 2013, Plaintiff worked at a car wash. (R. at 161.) Plaintiff alleges his disability began on October 1, 2013, at the age of 51. (R. at 142.) He turned 55 on July 5, 2017, at which point he became a “[p]erson of advanced age.” (R. at 18; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(e), 416.963(e).)

         In his disability report, he lists several conditions (severe osteoarthritis; high blood pressure; a collapsed artery in his left leg; an education limited to 8th Grade; and disadvantaged reading, writing and comprehension skills) as limiting his ability to work. (R. at 189.) His application was initially denied on July 13, 2016. (R. at 66-82.)

         Plaintiff requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. at 87-88.) On July 11, 2017, ALJ Crystal L. White-Simmons held a hearing, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE), James Lozer, Ed.D., testified. (R. at 24-65, 218.) On August 18, 2017, ALJ White-Simmons issued a partially favorable opinion in which she determined that Plaintiff was not disabled prior to July 5, 2017, but became disabled on that date and continued to be disabled through the date of the decision. (R. at 8-23.)[1]

         Plaintiff submitted a request for review of the hearing decision/order. (R. at 135-141, 6-7.) However, on March 16, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 1-5.) Thus, ALJ White-Simmons's decision became the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff timely commenced the instant action on May 18, 2018.

         B. Plaintiff's Medical History

         The administrative record contains approximately 230 pages of medical records, which were available to the ALJ at the time of her August 18, 2017 decision. (R. at 23, 219-448 [Exhibits 1F-10F].) These materials will be discussed in detail, as necessary, below.

         C. The Administrative Decision

         Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4), at Step 1 of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 1, 2013, the alleged onset date. (R. at 14.) At Step 2, the ALJ found that, since the alleged October 1, 2013 onset date of disability, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: bilateral knee osteoarthritis and left meniscal tear. (Id. at 14-15.) At Step 3, the ALJ found that, since the alleged October 1, 2013 onset date of disability, Plaintiff had not had an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Id. at 15.) Between Steps 3 and 4 of the sequential process, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[2] and determined that, since October 1, 2013, Plaintiff had the RFC:

. . . to perform light work [i.e., exertional limitation] . . . except no climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasional climbing of ramps or stairs, balancing, stooping and crouching; no kneeling or crawling [i.e., postural limitations]; and requires the use of a handheld assistive device for ambulation [i.e., exertional/manipulative limitation].

(Id. at 15-18.) At Step 4, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has been unable to perform any past relevant work since October 1, 2013. (Id. at 18.) At Step 5, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined that, prior to July 5, 2017, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed, such as assembler, packer, and inspector. (Id. at 19.)

         However, the ALJ found that, beginning on July 5, 2017, which was Plaintiff's 55th birthday and the date his age category changed, and again considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were no jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (R. at 20.)

         In sum, the ALJ determined that: (1) with respect to Plaintiff's application for DI benefits, Plaintiff was not disabled, as defined in the Social Security Act, through December 31, 2015, the date last insured (DLI); and, (2) with respect to his application for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits, Plaintiff has been disabled, as defined in the Social Security Act, beginning on July 4 or 5, 2017. (Id.)[3]

         D. ...


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