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Mendyk v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

August 7, 2019

COMMISSIONER OF Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          Robert H. Cleland Judge.




         For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that the Court GRANT Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (DE 15), DENY Defendant's motion for summary judgment (DE 17), and REMAND this case to the Commissioner and the ALJ under Sentence Four of § 405(g) for further consideration consistent with the report below.

         II. REPORT

         Plaintiff, Michael James Mendyk Jr., brings this action under 42 U.S.C § 405(g) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for Disability Insurance (DI) benefits. 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 19) and the administrative record (DE 11).

         A. Background and Administrative History

         Plaintiff alleges his disability began on October 12, 2013, at the age of 37. (R. at 184.) In his disability report, he lists spinal cord/neck surgery, R cubital tunnel surgery, L cubital tunnel surgery, lower back vertebra compression, debilitating pain in lower extremities, pain in forearms, depression, severe anxiety, bipolar disorder, and mood stabilization disorder as limiting his ability to work. (R. at 187.) His application was denied on September 4, 2015. (R. at 80-87.)

         Plaintiff requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. at 88-89.) On June 22, 2017, ALJ John Loughlin held a hearing, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE), Susan J. Rowe, testified. (R. at 22-59.) On September 12, 2017, ALJ Loughlin issued an opinion, which determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. at 12-31.)

         Plaintiff submitted a request for review of the hearing decision/order. (R. at 148-155.) However, on April 4, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 1-6.) Thus, ALJ Loughlin's decision became the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff timely commenced the instant action on June 1, 2018.

         B. Plaintiff's Medical History

         The administrative record contains approximately 860 pages of medical records, which were available to the ALJ at the time of his September 12, 2017 decision. (R. at 275-1, 138 [Exhibits 1F-18F].) 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 August 30, 2014, the alleged onset date. (R. at 17.)[1] At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: cervical spondylosis/anterior fusion surgery, cervical radiculopathy, lumbar degenerative disc disease, spondylosis - post laminectomy, thoracic spine degenerative disc disease, bilateral cubital tunnel with surgery, bilateral carpal tunnel with surgery, major depression, anxiety, and alcohol and substance abuse disorder. (Id. at 17-18.) At Step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Id. at 18-20.) Between Steps 3 and 4 of the sequential process, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[2] and determined that Plaintiff had the RFC:

. . . to perform light work . . . except he can frequently push, pull handle, or finger with the upper extremities. [i.e., exertional and manipulative limitations] He can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. [i.e., postural limitations] He can frequently climb stairs and ramps. He can never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. [i.e., exertional limitations] He can have occasional exposure to dust, noxious odors, fumes, poor ventilation, extreme cold, extreme heat, humidity, and wetness. [i.e., environmental limitations] He can understand and remember simple instructions, make simple work related decisions, carry-out simple instructions and can occasionally deal with supervisors and coworkers, but not the public. [i.e., mental limitations] He can alternate between walking and or standing and sitting every thirty minutes while remaining on task. [i.e., exertional limitations]

(Id. at 20-24.) At Step 4, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 24.) At Step 5, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, such as mail clerk, office helper, and machine tender. (Id. at 25.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since August 30, 2014. (Id. at 25.)

         D. Standard of Review

         The District Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). When reviewing a case under the Social Security Act, the Court “must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it ‘is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.'” Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. at 2009) (quoting Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. at 2007)); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”). Under this standard, “substantial evidence is defined as ‘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, 486 F.3d at 241 (quoting Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994)). In deciding whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the court does “not try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence or decide questions of credibility.” Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007); Rogers, 486 F.3d at 247 (“It is of course for the ALJ, and not the reviewing court, to evaluate the credibility of witnesses, including that of the claimant.”).

         Although the substantial evidence standard is deferential, it is not trivial. The Court must “‘take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from [the] weight'” of the Commissioner's decision. TNS, Inc. v. NLRB, 296 F.3d 384, 395 (6th Cir. 2002) (quoting Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 487 (1951)). Nevertheless, “if substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, this Court defers to that finding ‘even if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion.'” Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (quoting Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)). Finally, even if the ALJ's decision meets the substantial evidence standard, “‘a decision of the Commissioner will not be upheld where the SSA fails to follow its own regulations and where that error prejudices a claimant on the merits or deprives the claimant of a substantial right.'” Rabbers, 582 F.3d at 651 (quoting Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746 (6th Cir. 2007)).

         E. ...

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