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Meech v. Colvin

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

September 25, 2013

SHAWN MICHAEL MEECH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

ORDER

JOHN R. ADAMS, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin's ("Commissioner") Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation ("R&R"). This action was referred to Magistrate Judge Kathleen B. Burke pursuant to local rule 72.2(b)(1) for a Report on the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") to deny Claimant Shawn Michael Meech's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. §1381 et seq. The Magistrate Judge recommends that the ALJ's decision denying SSI to Plaintiff be reversed and remanded back to the ALJ for further fact-finding, analysis, and articulation. Commissioner timely objected to the R&R.

Law and Analysis

The R&R sets forth a thorough review of the facts of this matter and this Court adopts the facts as set forth by the R&R. When a magistrate judge submits an R&R, this Court is required to conduct a de novo review of the portions of the Report to which an objection has been made. 42 U.S.C. § 1381(c)(3). This Court's review of the ALJ's decision is limited to determining whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings when viewing the record as a whole. Hephner v. Matthews, 574 F.2d 359, 362 (6th Cir. 1978). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla of evidence, but less than a preponderance. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Besaw v. Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 966 F.2d 1028, 1030 (6th Cir. 1992). Simply, substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 306 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the reviewing court must affirm the ALJ's decision even if substantial evidence or even a preponderance of the evidence also supports the opposite position. Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 477 (6th Cir. 2003); see also, Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986). Additionally, a reviewing court cannot try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or decide questions of credibility. Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984).

This standard grants wide latitude to administrative decision makers. Mullen, 800 F.2d at 545. The standard presupposes that there is a zone of choice' within which the ALJ has discretion. Id. An administrative decision is not subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence may support a contrary decision. Id. However, in determining whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings, the Court must examine the record as a whole and take into account what fairly detracts from its weight. Wyatt v. Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 974 F.2d 680, 683 (6th Cir. 1992). The reviewing court must also consider whether the ALJ followed proper legal standards. Queen City Home Health Care v. Sullivan, 978 F.2d 236, 243 (6th Cir. 1992).

A disability claimant must be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to the existence of a medical or physical impairment to receive benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Colvin v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). A mental or physical impairment is an "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." Id. The inability to engage in substantial gainful activity includes both the claimant's past employment and any other work existing in significant quantity in the economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Harmon v. Comm'r of Social Security, 168 F.3d 289, 291 (6th Cir. 1999).

To make a determination of disability, an ALJ is required to follow a five-step sequential analysis according to agency regulations. The Five-Step analysis followed is:

1. If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled.
2. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, his impairment must be severe before he can be found to be disabled.
3. If claimant is not doing substantial gainful activity, is suffering from a severe impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and his impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.
4. If the impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the ALJ must assess Claimant's residual functional capacity and use it to determine if claimant's impairment prevents him from doing past relevant work. If claimant's impairment does not prevent him from doing his past relevant work, he is not disabled.
5. If claimant is unable to perform past relevant work, he is not disabled if, based on his vocational factors and residual functional capacity, he is capable of performing other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (b)-(g); see also, Brown v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). A claimant has the burden of proof at Steps One through Four and then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at Step Five. Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 529 (6th Cir. 1997).

This Court reviews whether the ALJ's decision cited substantial evidence to support the conclusion. In reviewing the ALJ's decision, the reviewing court may not rely on post-hoc rationalizations to legitimize the finding of the ALJ. SEC v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194 (1947). (holding that a reviewing court, in assessing the decision of an ...


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