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Jones v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 5, 2019

Donnie Jones, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

          Honorable Robert J. Jonker Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PHILLIP J. GREEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance benefits (DIB). On December 7, 2014, plaintiff filed his application. He alleged a July 15, 2014, onset of disability. (ECF No. 9-5, PageID.200). His claim was denied on initial review. (ECF No. 9-4, PageID.143-46). On January 23, 2017, plaintiff received a hearing before an ALJ. (ECF No. 9-2, PageID.62-127). The ALJ issued his decision on April 24, 2017, finding plaintiff not disabled. (Op., ECF No. 9-2, PageID.46-54). On March 20, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review (ECF No. 9-2, PageID.32-34), rendering the ALJs decision the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff timely filed his complaint seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner's decision should be overturned on the following grounds:

I. The ALJ's finding at step three of the sequential analysis is not supported by substantial evidence.
II. The ALJ's finding regarding plaintiff's residual functional capacity is not supported by substantial evidence.
III. The ALJ's credibility determination is not supported by substantial evidence.
IV. The ALJ's finding that plaintiff was not disabled because he was capable of performing his past relevant work as a security guard is not supported by substantial evidence.

(Plf. Brief, 2, ECF No. 13, PageID.556). For the reasons stated herein, I recommend that the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         Standard of Review

         When reviewing the grant or denial of social security benefits, this court is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner correctly applied the law. See Elam ex rel. Golay v. Commissioner, 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th Cir. 2003); Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence is defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The scope of the court's review is limited. Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772. The court does not review the evidence de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or make credibility determinations. See Ulman v. Commissioner, 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012). “The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “The findings of the Commissioner are not subject to reversal merely because there exists in the record substantial evidence to support a different conclusion. . . . This is so because there is a ‘zone of choice' within which the Commissioner can act without fear of court interference.” Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772-73; see Gayheart v. Commissioner, 710 F.3d 365, 374 (6th Cir. 2013) (“A reviewing court will affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on substantial evidence, even if substantial evidence would have supported the opposite conclusion.”).

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that plaintiff met the disability insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2019. (Op., 3, ECF No. 9-2, PageID.48). Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity on or after July 15, 2014, the alleged onset date. (Id.). Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “multilevel cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease, and obesity.” (Id.). Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the requirements of a listing impairment. (Id. at 4, PageID.49). The ALJ found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) for a range of sedentary work with the following exceptions:

the claimant can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, kneel, crouch, or crawl. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, and/or stoop. The claimant is limited to occasional rotation, flex, and extension of the cervical spine (i.e. neck), and can only frequently reach overhead with the right upper extremity. The claimant is limited to frequent handling, fingering, and feeling with the right upper extremity. The claimant must avoid all exposure to workplace hazards (i.e. moving mechanical parts and work at unprotected heights).

(Id.). The ALJ found that plaintiff's statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms were “not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record[.]” (Id. at 5, PageID.50). The ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled at step four of the sequential analysis because he was capable of performing his past relevant work as a security guard. (Id. at 8-9, PageID.53-54).

         Discussion

         1.

         Plaintiff's initial claim of error is that the ALJ's finding at step three of the sequential analysis is not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, plaintiff argues that under SSR 96-6p, the ALJ was required to obtain an expert opinion regarding whether plaintiff medically equaled the requirements of a listing impairment. In addition, he argues that the state agency medical consultant's opinion could not support the ALJ's finding ...


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