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Stamm v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 3, 2019

Deborah K. Stamm, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Honorable Janet T. Neff Judge.


          Phillip J. Green United States Magistrate Judge.

         This is a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, finding that plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. On July 8, 2015, plaintiff filed her application for DIB benefits, and on July 1, 2015, she filed her application for SSI benefits. She alleged a February 24, 2015, onset of disability. (ECF No. 7-5, PageID.194, 201). Plaintiff's claims were denied on initial review. (ECF No. 7-4, PageID.129-44). On September 14, 2017, plaintiff received a hearing before the ALJ. (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.66-100). The ALJ issued his decision on February 27, 2018, finding that plaintiff was not disabled. (Op., ECF No. 7-2, PageID.48-60). On October 19, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.37-39), rendering the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff timely filed a 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 failed to follow SSR 96-3p when he did not consider plaintiff's diabetes and gastroparesis “severe impairments.”
II. The ALJ's residual functional capacity finding is not supported by substantial evidence.
A. The ALJ did not include the effects of all plaintiff's impairments as required by SSR 96-8p.
B. The ALJ relied on the opinion of a non-examining physician rendered before plaintiff developed gastroparesis, osteoarthritis, and other impairments.
C. The ALJ's findings regarding the severity of plaintiff's symptoms are contrary to SSR 16-3p and are not supported by substantial evidence.

(Plf. Brief, iii, ECF No. 11, PageID.1287). For the reasons set forth 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); Walters v. Commissioner, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). “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); see McClanahan v. Commissioner, 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006). “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 requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2017. (Op., 3, ECF No. 7-2, PageID.50). Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity on or after February 24, 2015, the alleged onset date. (Id.). Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “obesity, migraines, diabetes mellitus, essential hypertension, adhesive capsulitis of the right shoulder status post arthroscopy and rotator cuff repair, and osteoarthritis of the knees with bilateral knee replacement.” (Id. at 4, PageID.51). Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled a ...

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