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Galloway v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 12, 2019

Jessica Galloway, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Hon. Robert J. Jonker, Judge



         This is 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 Plaintiffs claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. 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. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), authorizing United States Magistrate Judges to submit proposed findings of fact and recommendations for disposition of Social Security appeals, the undersigned recommends that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.


         The 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. Secretary 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. Secretary 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).

         Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. See Cohen v. Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services, 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir. 1992). 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. See Richardson v. Secretary 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). 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.


         Plaintiff was 28 years of age on her alleged disability onset date. (Op., PageID.68). She successfully completed high school and worked previously as a cashier-checker. (Id., PageID.68). Plaintiff applied for benefits on September 9, 2015, alleging that she had been disabled since October 1, 2013, due to: (1) torn disc, annular tear; (2) back injury; (3) sciatica; (4) interstitial cystitis; (5) bipolar II disorder; (6) asthma; (7) depression; (8) post-traumatic stress disorder; (9) severe allergies; (10) insomnia; (11) irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); (12) attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); (13) arthritis; (14) anxiety; (15) fatigue; (16) facet joint pain; (17) hypoglycemia; and (18) piriformis syndrome. (ECF No. 7-2, 7-6, 7-7, PageID.57, 331-40, 356).

         Plaintiffs applications were denied, after which time she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (ECF No. 7-4, 7-5, PageID. 195-329). Following an administrative hearing, ALJ Douglas Johnson, in an opinion dated April 16, 2018, determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.57- 70, 76-123). The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's determination, rendering it the Commissioner's final decision in the matter. (Id., PageID.28-33). Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision.


         The 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 his residual functional capacity. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545, 416.945.

         The burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely on Plaintiffs shoulders. 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 of the sequential evaluation process, 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. Commissioner of Social Security, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997).

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: (1) degenerative disc disease; (2) interstitial cystitis; (3) obesity; (4) bipolar disorder; (5) major depressive disorder; (6) post-traumatic stress disorder; and (7) attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These impairments, whether considered alone or in combination with other impairments, failed to satisfy the requirements of any listed impairment in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.[1] (Op., 4-6, PageID.60-62).

         With respect to Plaintiffs residual functional capacity, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the ability to perform light work subject to the following limitations: (1) she can lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; (2) during an eight-hour workday, she can stand/walk for four hours, although not all at one time, and sit for six hours; (3) she can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps/stairs; (4) she can perform simple, routine tasks involving no more than simple, short instructions and make simple work-related decisions with few workplace ...

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