Price v. Commissioner of Social Security
MEMORANDUM OPINION ; signed by Magistrate Judge Phillip J. Green (Green, Phillip)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
JOE LATHAN PRICE, III,
Case No. 1:16-cv-541-PJG
Hon. Phillip J. Green
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
This is a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(Commissioner). Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner’s decision denying his
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.1
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73, the
parties consented to the undersigned magistrate judge handling all matters in this
case, including entry of final judgment. (See ECF No. 12).
Standard of Review
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. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 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. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 964 F.2d 524, 528 (6th Cir. 1992)
(citations omitted). 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 evidence in the record fairly detracts from its weight. See
Richardson v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 735 F.2d 962, 963 (6th Cir. 1984). 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) (citation omitted). This standard affords
the 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 protectively filed his applications for DIB and SSI in March 2012,
alleging an April 20, 2012, onset of disability.2 (PageID.344-49, 359-60, 378). Plaintiff’s
applications were denied at the initial level (PageID.161-72), and he requested an
administrative hearing (PageID.200-01). The administrative law judge (ALJ) held a
hearing on April 8, 2013 (PageID.117-59), and, on May 24, 2013, issued a decision
finding that plaintiff was not disabled (PageID.173-87). On September 10, 2014, the
Appeals Council reviewed this decision, and remanded plaintiff’s claims for a new
Upon remand, a different ALJ held a hearing on
January 21, 2015 (PageID.63-116), and, on May 28, 2015, issued a new decision, again
finding that plaintiff was not disabled (PageID.41-56). The Appeals Council denied
plaintiff’s request for review of this decision on April 12, 2016. (PageID.25-27). This
Plaintiff filed this action, pro se, on May 17, 2016. (Complaint, ECF No. 1). On
June 2, 2016, the Court granted plaintiff’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF
No. 4). By notice entered August 8, 2016, the Court directed the parties to file briefs
in support of their respective positions, plaintiff by September 12, 2016, and the
Plaintiff alleged disability as of April 1, 1992, when he initially applied for
benefits (PageID.344, 359), but subsequently amended this date to April 20, 2012
Commissioner by October 17, 2016. (ECF No. 9). The Court noted its expectation of
strict compliance with the briefing requirements. (See id., PageID.787).
On September 15, 2016, the Court issued a show-cause order, as a result of
plaintiff’s failure to file his brief, requiring plaintiff “to show cause in writing why this
case should not be dismissed for his failure to file a brief in accordance with the court’s
notice (ECF No. 9).” (ECF No. 13, PageID.798 (citing W.D. MICH. LCIVR 41.1)).
Plaintiff responded on September 21, 2016, simply noting that his niece wrote “a letter”
on August 17, 2016, to “tell [the Court] that [he is] disable[d] and the [problems he
has].” (ECF No. 14, PageID.799). The Court found this letter attached to the Joint
Statement Regarding Consent, which was filed August 17, 2016; it reads in full as
To whom it may concern.
The purpose for Joe Price requesting SSI is because of his mental health.
He is mentally retarded I believe. Simple things that most people can do
he can’t or you have to tell him over and over and he still may not do it.
He suffers from [schizophrenia], he often talks to himself and seems to be
in another world. He is a very hard person to deal with sometimes
because of his mental state. It takes a lot of love and patience when
dealing with him. As time goes by it seems to worse[n], he needs held
with more things then before. Hopefully he will finally get the help he
(ECF No. 11-1, PageID.796). It is signed “N. Price,” and it is dated August 10, 2016.
On October 13, 2016, the Commissioner filed her brief. (ECF No. 15). The
Commissioner argues that the ALJ properly determined that plaintiff was not disabled
from April 20, 2012, his amended date of alleged onset of disability, through the date
of the ALJ’s decision. (Id., PageID.804-09). The Court has received no further
submissions from plaintiff.
At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since April 20, 2012, the amended alleged onset date. (ALJ Op. at 4, ECF
No. 7-2, PageID.47). At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the
following severe impairments between April 20, 2012, and October 31, 2012:
“schizophrenia; gender identity disorder; antisocial personality disorder; and substance
addiction disorders (alcohol and cocaine).” (Id.). At the third step, the ALJ determined
that plaintiff’s impairments through October 31, 2012, met the requirements of a listed
impairment.3 (Id., PageID.47-50). The ALJ then found that plaintiff’s substance
addiction was in remission as of November 1, 2012. (Id., PageID.50). Starting on that
date, the ALJ determined that plaintiff’s impairments of “schizophrenia; gender
identity disorder; [and] antisocial personality disorder” remained severe, but did not
meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment. (Id., PageID.50-52).
The ALJ then evaluated plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (RFC) since
November 1, 2012, and she found that plaintiff could perform work at all exertional
levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: “simple, routine, repetitive
The ALJ erred in failing to determine whether plaintiff’s substance abuse was
material to the disability determination during the period April 20, 2012, through
October 31, 2012. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1535, 416.935. This error is harmless, however,
as the period fell short of the twelve-month durational requirement. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1509, 404.1522(b), 416.909, 416.922(b).
tasks involving only short, simple instructions and simple work related decisions and
few work place changes; no contact with the general public; occasional contact with
coworkers and supervisors; no work with production quotas; and reading at no more
[than] the 3rd grade level.” (Id., PageID.52).
At step five, the ALJ determined that plaintiff retained the ability to perform
jobs that existed in significant number in the national economy. (Id., PageID.54-55).
These included “material handling,” “general industrial labor,” and “grounds and
building maintenance.” (Id., PageID.55). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff
was not disabled. (Id., PageID.55-56).
The letter submitted by plaintiff’s niece does not comply with the requirements
for filing a brief (see Notice, ECF No. 9, PageID.786); nor is plaintiff’s niece an attorney
admitted to practice in this Court. Nevertheless, and in an abundance of caution, the
Court has considered it for purposes of this decision. The letter indicates that plaintiff
suffers from severe impairments that significantly limit his ability to function. But
that does not differ significantly from what the ALJ found. (See ALJ Op. at 9-11,
PageID.52-54). Nothing in the letter suggests an error that requires remand.
The Court has independently reviewed the ALJ’s decision, the underlying record,
and the Commissioner’s brief. The ALJ’s decision will be affirmed. The Court finds
that the RFC, as determined by the ALJ, is supported by substantial evidence. The
Court further finds that the ALJ’s decision, based on the testimony of the vocational
expert, that there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy that
plaintiff can perform is supported by substantial evidence.
For the reasons articulated herein, the Commissioner’s decision will be AFFIRMED. A
separate judgment shall issue.
Date: December 26, 2016
/s/ Phillip J. Green
PHILLIP J. GREEN
United States Magistrate Judge
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