United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
H. Cleland Judge.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO GRANT PLAINTIFF'S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DE 15), DENY DEFENDANT'S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DE 17) AND REMAND THIS MATTER TO
ANTHONY P. PATTI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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.
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).
Background and Administrative History
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.)
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.)
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.
timely commenced the instant action on June 1, 2018.
Plaintiff's Medical History
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.
The Administrative Decision
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.) 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”) 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
(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.)
Standard of Review
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.”).
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)).