Moran v. Carolyn W. Colvin Comm'r of Soc. Sec., CASE NO. 2:13-cv-13452

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
Writing for the CourtMAGISTRATE JUDGE PATRICIA T. MORRIS
PartiesKIMBERLY LYNN MORAN, Plaintiff, v. CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Decision Date30 July 2014
Docket NumberCASE NO. 2:13-cv-13452

KIMBERLY LYNN MORAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

CASE NO. 2:13-cv-13452

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN SOUTHERN DIVISION

July 30, 2014


DISTRICT JUDGE DENISE PAGE HOOD
MAGISTRATE JUDGE PATRICIA T. MORRIS

MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION 1

I. RECOMMENDATION

In light of the entire record in this case, I suggest that substantial evidence does not support the Commissioner's determination that Plaintiff is not disabled. Accordingly, IT IS RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment be GRANTED, that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment be DENIED, and that the case be remanded to the Commissioner under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

II. REPORT

A. Introduction and Procedural History

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), E.D. Mich. LR 72.1(b)(3), and by Notice of Reference, this case was referred to this magistrate judge for the purpose of reviewing the

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Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff's claims for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). This matter is currently before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 10, 13.)

Kimberly Moran ("Plaintiff") was thirty-seven years old at the time of the most recent administrative hearing. (Transcript, Doc. 6 at 56.) Plaintiff worked at Nationwide Income Tax in 1994, (Tr. at 59, 179), and as a meat wrapper and stock clerk at Meijer from 1997 until 2004, when she suffered the back injury leading to this disability claim, (Tr. at 60-62, 183, 223). She testified that she returned to Meijer for roughly eight months in 2007 as a gas station monitor.2 (Tr. at 60-64, 232.) On February 1, 2011, Plaintiff filed the present claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. (Tr. at 169.) She alleged that she became unable to work on August 8, 2007. (Tr. at 169.)

The claim was denied at the initial administrative stage. (Tr. at 131.) In denying Plaintiff's claims, the Commissioner considered discogenic and degenerative back disorders. (Id.) On November 28, 2011, Plaintiff appeared before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Patricia S. McKay, who considered the application for benefits de novo. (Tr. at 41-122.) In a decision dated March 17, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. at 19, 34.) Plaintiff requested a review of this decision on April 11, 2012. (Tr. at 15.)

The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision, see Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 543-44 (6th Cir. 2004), on June 18, 2013, when the Appeals Council

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denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. at 1-3.) On August 13, 2013 Plaintiff filed the instant suit seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's unfavorable decision. (Doc. 1.)

B. Standard of Review

The Social Security system has a two-tiered structure in which the administrative agency handles claims and the judiciary merely reviews the factual determinations to ensure they are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). The administrative process provides multiple opportunities for reviewing the state agency's initial determination. The Plaintiff can first appeal the decision to the Social Security Agency, then to an ALJ, and finally to the Appeals Council. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 142 (1987). Once this administrative process is complete, an unsuccessful claimant may file an action in federal district court. Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 524-28 (1990), superseded by statute on other grounds, Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-193, 110 Stat. 2105; Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 537 (6th Cir. 1986) (en banc).

This Court has original jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the Commissioner's final administrative decision. The statute limits the scope of judicial review, requiring the Court to "'affirm the Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standards or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.'" Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004)). See also Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). The court's review of the decision for substantial evidence does not permit it to "'try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or decide questions of credibility.'" Ulman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012)

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(quoting Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007)). See also Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984).

The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Therefore, a court may not reverse the Commissioner's decision merely because it disagrees or because "'there exists in the record substantial evidence to support a different conclusion.'" McClanahan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001)). See also Mullen, 800 F.2d at 545. The court can only review the record before the ALJ. Bass, 499 F.3d at 512-13; Foster v. Halter, 279 F.3d 348, 357 (6th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence is "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." Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). See also Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 475 (6th Cir. 2003). "[T]he . . . standard is met if a 'reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Longworth, 402 F.3d at 595 (quoting Warner, 375 F.3d at 390). "The substantial evidence standard presupposes that there is a '"zone of choice"' within which the Commissioner may proceed without interference from the courts." Felisky v. Bowen, 35 F.3d 1027, 1035 (6th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted) (quoting Mullen, 800 F.2d at 545).

A court's review of the Commissioner's factual findings for substantial evidence must consider the evidence in the record as a whole, including that evidence which might subtract from its weight. Wyatt v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 974 F.2d 680, 683 (6th Cir. 1992). "Both the court of appeals and the district court may look to any evidence in the record, regardless of whether it has been cited by the Appeals Council." Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 535 (6th

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Cir. 2001). There is no requirement, however, that either the ALJ or the reviewing court discuss every piece of evidence in the administrative record. Van Der Maas v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 198 F. App'x 521, 526 (6th Cir. 2006); Kornecky v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 167 F. App'x 496, 508 (6th Cir. 2006) ("'[A]n ALJ can consider all the evidence without directly addressing in his written decision every piece of evidence submitted by a party.'" (quoting Loral Defense Systems-Akron v. N.L.R.B., 200 F.3d 436, 453 (6th Cir. 1999))).

C. Governing Law

"'The burden lies with the claimant to prove that she is disabled.'" Ferguson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 628 F.3d 269, 275 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Foster, 279 F.3d at 353). Accord Boyes v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 46 F.3d 510, 512 (6th Cir. 1994)). There are several benefits programs under the Act, including the DIB program of Title II, 42 U.S.C. § 401-34, and the Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") program of Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1381-1385. Title II benefits are available to qualifying wage earners who become disabled prior to the expiration of their insured status; Title XVI benefits are available to poverty stricken adults and children who become disabled. F. Bloch, Federal Disability Law and Practice § 1.1 (1984). While the two programs have different eligibility requirements, "DIB and SSI are available only for those who have a 'disability.'" Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). "Disability" means 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 [twelve] months.

42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (DIB); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a) (SSI).

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The Commissioner's regulations provide that 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
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