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Hoffman v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 25, 2019

LESLIE LIS HOFFMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Honorable Victoria A. Roberts Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [9, 10]

          DAVID R. GRAND UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Leslie Lis Hoffman (“Hoffman”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), challenging the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). Both parties have filed summary judgment motions (Docs. #9, #10), which have been referred to this Court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) conclusion that Hoffman was not disabled under the Act during the relevant time period. Accordingly, the Court RECOMMENDS that the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #10) be GRANTED, Hoffman's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #9) be DENIED, and that pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the ALJ's decision be AFFIRMED.

         II. REPORT

         A. Background

         Hoffman was 45 years old at the time of her alleged onset date of January 6, 2015, and at 5'3” tall weighed approximately 200 pounds during the relevant time period. (Tr. 33, 206). She completed high school but had no further education. (Tr. 34, 207). She worked as a cashier and then on an assembly line at a factory until approximately April 2012, when her medical conditions allegedly made it too difficult for her to perform her job duties. (Tr. 48, 206). She now alleges disability primarily as a result of fibromyalgia, back and hip pain, headaches, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 34, 37-38, 206, 216).

         After Hoffman's application for DIB was denied at the initial level on September 20, 2016[1] (Tr. 104-08), she timely requested an administrative hearing, which was held on December 7, 2017, before ALJ Earl Ashford (Tr. 29-55). Hoffman, who was represented by attorney Robert Gaecke, Jr., testified at the hearing, as did vocational expert Mark Pinti. (Id.). On April 24, 2018, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Hoffman was not disabled under the Act prior to her date last insured of December 31, 2017. (Tr. 12-24). On February 1, 2019, the Appeals Council denied review. (Tr. 1-5). Hoffman timely filed for judicial review of the final decision on March 22, 2019. (Doc. #1).

         The Court has thoroughly reviewed the transcript in this matter, including Hoffman's medical record, function and disability reports, and testimony as to her conditions and resulting limitations. Instead of summarizing that information here, the Court will make references and provide citations to the transcript as necessary in its discussion of the parties' arguments.

         B. The ALJ's Application of the Disability Framework Analysis

         Under the Act, DIB are available only for those who have a “disability.” See Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). The Act defines “disability” as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Commissioner's regulations provide that a disability is to be determined through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:

Step One: If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Two: If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments that “significantly limits . . . physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, ” benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Three: If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, has a severe impairment that is expected to last for at least twelve months, and the severe impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the regulations, the claimant is conclusively ...

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