Manning v. Commissioner of Social Security
OPINION vacating the Commissioner's decision and remanding the matter for further factual findings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); signed by Magistrate Judge Ellen S. Carmody (Magistrate Judge Ellen S. Carmody, jal)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Hon. Ellen S. Carmody
Case No. 1:16-CV-1148
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
This is an action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), to review a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff’s claim
for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and
XVI of the Social Security Act. The parties subsequently agreed to proceed in this Court for all
further proceedings, including an order of final judgment.
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. The
Commissioner has found that Plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. For the reasons
articulated herein, the Commissioner’s decision is vacated and this matter remanded for further
factual findings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court’s jurisdiction is confined to a review of the Commissioner’s decision and
of the record made in the administrative hearing process. See Willbanks v. Sec’y of Health and
Human Services, 847 F.2d 301, 303 (6th Cir. 1988). 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 and Human Services, 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 Dep’t of Health and Human Services, 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 in the
record fairly detracts from its weight. See Richardson v. Sec’y of Health and Human Services, 735
F.2d 962, 963 (6th Cir. 1984).
As has been widely recognized, 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 to the administrative 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 was 40 years of age on his alleged disability onset date. (PageID.268). He
successfully completed high school and worked previously as a structural steel worker.
(PageID.56). Plaintiff applied for benefits on May 28, 2013, alleging that he had been disabled since
April 1, 2013, due to knee impairments, back pain, shoulder injury, depression, and left ear
problems. (PageID.268-76, 315). Plaintiff’s application was denied, after which time he requested
a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (PageID.142-266). On May 7, 2015, Plaintiff
appeared before ALJ Shirley Michaelson with testimony being offered by Plaintiff and a vocational
expert. (PageID.89-140). In a written decision dated July 21, 2015, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled. (PageID.42-57). The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ’s
decision, rendering it the Commissioner’s final decision in the matter. (PageID.26-30). Plaintiff
subsequently initiated this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the
ANALYSIS OF THE ALJ’S DECISION
The social security regulations articulate a five-step sequential process for evaluating
disability. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a-f), 416.920(a-f).1 If the Commissioner can make a
dispositive finding at any point in the review, no further finding is required. See 20 C.F.R. §§
The regulations also provide that if a claimant suffers from a
nonexertional impairment as well as an exertional impairment, both are considered in determining
his residual functional capacity. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545, 416.945.
The burden of establishing the right to benefits rests squarely on Plaintiff’s shoulders,
and he can satisfy his burden by demonstrating that his impairments are so severe that he is unable
to perform his previous work, and cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience,
perform any other substantial gainful employment existing in significant numbers in the national
economy. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Cohen, 964 F.2d at 528. While the burden of proof shifts
to the Commissioner at step five of the sequential evaluation process, Plaintiff bears the burden of
proof through step four of the procedure, the point at which his residual functioning capacity (RFC)
is determined. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); Walters v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.,
1. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found to be “disabled”
regardless of medical findings (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b));
2. An individual who does not have a “severe impairment” will not be found “disabled” (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c),
3. If an individual is not working and is suffering from a severe impairment which meets the duration requirement and
which “meets or equals” a listed impairment in Appendix 1 of Subpart P of Regulations No. 4, a finding of “disabled”
will be made without consideration of vocational factors. (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d));
4. If an individual is capable of performing her past relevant work, a finding of “not disabled” must be made (20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e));
5. If an individual’s impairment is so severe as to preclude the performance of past work, other factors including age,
education, past work experience, and residual functional capacity must be considered to determine if other work can
be performed (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f)).
127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997) (ALJ determines RFC at step four, at which point claimant bears
the burden of proof).
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffers from: (1) degenerative disc disease of the
cervical spine status post fusion at C5-6 and C6-7; (2) degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine;
(3) degenerative joint disease of the left knee status post multiple surgeries and knee replacement;
(4) history of rotator cuff tears; and (5) depression, severe impairments that whether considered
alone or in combination with other impairments, failed to satisfy the requirements of any impairment
identified in the Listing of Impairments detailed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(PageID.44-46). With respect to Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
retained the ability to perform sedentary work subject to the following limitations: (1) he needs to
change positions for 1-2 minutes every half hour and (2) he is limited to simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks (i.e., unskilled work). (PageID.47).
The ALJ found that Plaintiff cannot perform his past relevant work at which point
the burden of proof shifted to the Commissioner to establish by substantial evidence that a
significant number of jobs exist in the national economy which Plaintiff could perform, his
limitations notwithstanding. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. While the ALJ is not required to
question a vocational expert on this issue, “a finding supported by substantial evidence that a
claimant has the vocational qualifications to perform specific jobs” is needed to meet the burden.
O’Banner v. Sec’y of Health and Human Services, 587 F.2d 321, 323 (6th Cir. 1978) (emphasis
added). This standard requires more than mere intuition or conjecture by the ALJ that the claimant
can perform specific jobs in the national economy. See Richardson, 735 F.2d at 964. Accordingly,
ALJs routinely question vocational experts in an attempt to determine whether there exist a
significant number of jobs which a particular claimant can perform, his limitations notwithstanding.
Such was the case here, as the ALJ questioned a vocational expert.
The vocational expert testified that there existed approximately 152,000 jobs in the
national economy which an individual with Plaintiff’s RFC could perform, such limitations
notwithstanding. (PageID.132-38). This represents a significant number of jobs. See Born v. Sec’y
of Health and Human Services, 923 F.2d 1168, 1174 (6th Cir. 1990); Hall v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 272,
274 (6th Cir. 1988); Martin v. Commissioner of Social Security, 170 Fed. Appx. 369, 374 (6th Cir.,
Mar. 1, 2006). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not entitled to disability benefits.
The ALJ Properly Assessed the Medical Opinion Evidence
On October 28, 2014, Dr. Paula DeKeyser completed a form report regarding
Plaintiff’s ability to perform physical and mental work-related activities. (PageID.544-49, 551-52).
Dr. DeKeyser concluded that Plaintiff suffered from extreme physical and mental limitations that
precluded all substantial gainful activity. The ALJ afforded “no weight” to Dr. DeKeyser’s opinion.
(PageID.50-51, 55). Plaintiff argues that he is entitled to relief on the ground that the ALJ failed to
provide sufficient reasons for discounting the opinion of his treating physician.
The treating physician doctrine recognizes that medical professionals who have a
long history of caring for a claimant and his maladies generally possess significant insight into her
medical condition. See Barker v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 789, 794 (6th Cir. 1994). An ALJ must,
therefore, give controlling weight to the opinion of a treating source if: (1) the opinion is “wellsupported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques” and (2) the opinion
“is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the case record.”
Commissioner of Social Security, 710 F.3d 365, 375-76 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §
Such deference is appropriate, however, only where the particular opinion “is based
upon sufficient medical data.” Miller v. Sec’y of Health and Human Services, 1991 WL 229979 at
*2 (6th Cir., Nov. 7, 1991) (citing Shavers v. Sec’y of Health and Human Services, 839 F.2d 232,
235 n.1 (6th Cir. 1987)). The ALJ may reject the opinion of a treating physician where such is
unsupported by the medical record, merely states a conclusion, or is contradicted by substantial
medical evidence. See Cohen, 964 F.2d at 528; Miller v. Sec’y of Health and Human Services, 1991
WL 229979 at *2 (6th Cir., Nov. 7, 1991) (citing Shavers v. Sec’y of Health and Human Services,
839 F.2d 232, 235 n.1 (6th Cir. 1987)); Cutlip v. Sec’y of Health and Human Services, 25 F.3d 284,
286-87 (6th Cir. 1994).
If an ALJ accords less than controlling weight to a treating source’s opinion, the ALJ
must “give good reasons” for doing so. Gayheart, 710 F.3d at 376. Such reasons must be
“supported by the evidence in the case record, and must be sufficiently specific to make clear to any
subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the treating source’s medical opinion and
the reasons for that weight.” This requirement “ensures that the ALJ applies the treating physician
rule and permits meaningful review of the ALJ’s application of the rule.” Id. (quoting Wilson v.
Commissioner of Social Security, 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004)). Simply stating that the
physician’s opinions “are not well-supported by any objective findings and are inconsistent with
other credible evidence” is, without more, too “ambiguous” to permit meaningful review of the
ALJ’s assessment. Gayheart, 710 F.3d at 376-77.
If the ALJ affords less than controlling weight to a treating physician’s opinion, the
ALJ must still determine the weight to be afforded such. Id. at 376. In doing so, the ALJ must
consider the following factors: (1) length of the treatment relationship and frequency of the
examination, (2) nature and extent of the treatment relationship, (3) supportability of the opinion,
(4) consistency of the opinion with the record as a whole, (5) the specialization of the treating
source, and (6) other relevant factors. Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527). While the ALJ is not
required to explicitly discuss each of these factors, the record must nevertheless reflect that the ALJ
considered those factors relevant to his assessment. See, e.g., Oldham v. Astrue, 509 F.3d 1254,
1258 (10th Cir. 2007); Undheim v. Barnhart, 214 Fed. Appx. 448, 450 (5th Cir., Jan. 19, 2007).
With respect to Plaintiff’s physical limitations, Dr. DeKeyser reported that Plaintiff
was unable to lift/carry any weight, use his upper extremities, or perform any postural activities on
a “regular and continuous basis.” (PageID.544, 546-47). Regarding Plaintiff’s non-exertional
impairments, the doctor evaluated Plaintiff in 15 categories, concluding that in 12 categories
Plaintiff experienced no ability to function for “a sustained, 8 hour work day.” (PageID.551).
As the ALJ recognized, Plaintiff suffers from several severe impairments, as well as
a history of several consequential surgeries. (PageID.47-55). Nevertheless, the medical record does
not support Dr. DeKeyser’s opinion that Plaintiff is effectively precluded from any and all work
activities. Specifically, Plaintiff has participated in MRI, myelography, and electrodiagnostic
examinations none of which are consistent with or support Dr. DeKeyser’s opinions. (PageID.49596, 498-99, 579, 581-82). The ALJ also correctly noted that there is no evidence in the record to
support the non-exertional limitations identified by Dr. DeKeyser. (PageID.55). In sum, the ALJ’s
decision to discount Dr. DeKeyser’s opinions is supported by substantial evidence.
The ALJ’s Credibility Assessment is not Supported by Substantial Evidence
Finding Plaintiff to be less than credible, the ALJ dismissed Plaintiff’s “allegations
of catastrophic pain.” (PageID.52). Plaintiff argues that he is entitled to relief because the ALJ’s
assessment of his credibility is not supported by substantial evidence. The Court agrees.
As the Sixth Circuit has long recognized, “pain alone, if the result of a medical
impairment, may be severe enough to constitute disability.” King v. Heckler, 742 F.2d 968, 974 (6th
Cir. 1984) (emphasis added); see also, Grecol v. Halter, 46 Fed. Appx. 773, 775 (6th Cir., Aug. 29,
2002) (same). As the relevant Social Security regulations make clear, however, a claimant’s
“statements about [his] pain or other symptoms will not alone establish that [he is] disabled.” 20
C.F.R. § 404.1529(a); see also, Walters v. Commissioner of Social Security, 127 F.3d 525, 531 (6th
Cir. 1997) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(a)) Hash v. Commissioner of Social Security, 309 Fed.
Appx. 981, 989 (6th Cir., Feb. 10, 2009). Instead, as the Sixth Circuit has established, a claimant’s
assertions of disabling pain and limitation are evaluated pursuant to the following standard:
First, we examine whether there is objective medical evidence of an
underlying medical condition. If there is, we then examine: (1)
whether objective medical evidence confirms the severity of the
alleged pain arising from the condition; or (2) whether the objectively
established medical condition is of such a severity that it can
reasonably be expected to produce the alleged disabling pain.
Walters, 127 F.3d at 531 (citations omitted). This standard is often referred to as the Duncan
standard. See Workman v. Commissioner of Social Security, 105 Fed. Appx. 794, 801 (6th Cir., July
Accordingly, as the Sixth Circuit has repeatedly held, “subjective complaints may
support a finding of disability only where objective medical evidence confirms the severity of the
alleged symptoms.” Id. (citing Blankenship v. Bowen, 874 F.2d 1116, 1123 (6th Cir. 1989)).
However, where the objective medical evidence fails to confirm the severity of a claimant’s
subjective allegations, the ALJ “has the power and discretion to weigh all of the evidence and to
resolve the significant conflicts in the administrative record.” Workman, 105 Fed. Appx. at 801
(citing Walters, 127 F.3d at 531).
In this respect, it is recognized that the ALJ’s credibility assessment “must be
accorded great weight and deference.” Workman, 105 Fed. Appx. at 801 (citing Walters, 127 F.3d
at 531); see also, Heston v. Commissioner of Social Security, 245 F.3d 528, 536 (6th Cir. 2001) (“[i]t
is for the [Commissioner] and his examiner, as the fact-finders, to pass upon the credibility of the
witnesses and weigh and evaluate their testimony”). It is not for this Court to reevaluate such
evidence anew, and so long as the ALJ’s determination is supported by substantial evidence, it must
stand. The ALJ found Plaintiff’s subjective allegations to not be fully credible, a finding that should
not be lightly disregarded. See Varley v. Sec’y of Health and Human Services, 820 F.2d 777, 780
(6th Cir. 1987). As the Sixth Circuit has stated, “[w]e have held that an administrative law judge’s
credibility findings are virtually unchallengeable.” Ritchie v. Commissioner of Social Security, 540
Fed. Appx. 508, 511 (6th Cir., Oct. 4, 2013) (citation omitted).
Nevertheless, the ALJ is not permitted to make credibility determinations based upon
“an intangible or intuitive notion about an individual’s credibility.” Rogers v. Commissioner of
Social Security, 486 F.3d 234, 247 (6th Cir. 2007). Instead, the ALJ’s rationale for discrediting a
claimant’s testimony “must be sufficiently specific to make clear to the individual and to any
subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the individual’s statements and the reasons
for that weight.” Id. at 248. Accordingly, “blanket assertions that the claimant is not believable will
not pass muster, nor will explanations as to credibility which are not consistent with the entire record
and the weight of the relevant evidence.” Id.
At the outset of the administrative hearing, the ALJ asked Plaintiff if he could “work
at a mail room somewhere?” (PageID.95). Plaintiff responded that he “could do that. . .for a day
or so,” but would then would likely encounter difficulty due to physical pain and mental instability.
(PageID.96). The ALJ responded, not by exploring Plaintiff’s response further to better determine
the extent to which Plaintiff perceived he could function, but instead by instructing Plaintiff that he
needed to “change [his] expectations” lest he be “miserable for the rest of [his] life.” (PageID.9697). As the ALJ put it, Plaintiff needed to undertake “a paradigm shift.” (PageID.98). Plaintiff then
attempted to describe how his physical impairments were impacting his emotional state of mind, but
the ALJ interrupted with a lengthy soliloquy in which she attempted to explain to Plaintiff why he
was experiencing stress and that he just “need[s] to focus on the positive.” (PageID.98-99). As part
of this soliloquy, the ALJ stated to Plaintiff, “you haven’t shown me that there’s something really
wrong with you.” (PageID.99).
The hearing then focused briefly on Plaintiff’s loss of health insurance and
unsuccessful attempts to resume working, as well as his numerous surgeries, physical impairments,
and medications. (PageID.100-12). The ALJ then again launched into another soliloquy in which
she appeared to engage in the practice of medicine, instructing Plaintiff how he should undertake
pain management, despite Plaintiff expressly stating that he had discussed these matters at length
with his care providers. (PageID.112-20). At one point, the ALJ enlightened Plaintiff with the
following bit of medical treatment advice:
But a muscle relaxant might be - might help you sleep
better then the Norco/Morphine combination, and it
would help you cut back on the pain. Because what
happens is when you’re in pain, when you’re - when
you’re - and the kind of pain you’re in, the muscles
that are in the same area as the bones that are hurting
tense up. So half your pain is from the bone, and the
other - a big piece of your pain is from the muscles
that are next to the bone, and they’re all tightened,
and that causes a lot of pain. So the muscle relaxer
works at the muscle part. Now, the Neurontin is
supposed to help a little bit with that, but not enough.
I mean I think - and I don’t think the muscle relaxers
are addictive in the same way as the Norco and the
Morphine. So what you might want to do is just talk
to her about increasing the muscle relaxers while
you’re trying to decrease the narcotics, because she
knows and you know - well, first of all, the narcotics
aren’t dealing with your pain. They’re certainly not
helping you sleep, if I believe you. So taking more,
it doesn’t seem to be helping your pain or your sleep,
so it’s a perfect. . .it’s a perfect time to see, can we try
The topic then turned to vocational rehabilitation and retraining. Plaintiff attempted
to describe the efforts he had made in this regard, but the ALJ kept interrupting to provide her
personal opinions about the topic, including the observation that there existed “lots of jobs out there.
. .that play to your strengths, not to your weaknesses,” but that Plaintiff just was not in “the right
frame of mind.” (PageID.120-23). The ALJ then proceeded to again instruct Plaintiff with her
knowledge of human biology, medicine, and the treatment of serious impairments:
Yeah, see, Dr. McMurray really thought you should
have a better outcome, and he thought you were on
the right track. He thought you were doing too much
too fast, and were pushing yourself too hard, and that
you needed to figure out a way to slow it down. I also
think you need to have better communication with
your doctors. You know, I know you had an MRI of
your neck - the last MRI of your neck showed? What
do you think the MRI looks -
What do you think is going on with your neck right
I - one doctor that read it said there was a bulge, and
it - [INAUDIBLE] it hurts.
All right. Well -
Dr. McMurray said that and walked out of his office,
never came back.
Okay. Well, let me tell you. You’ve got - basically,
what’s going on in the most recent MRI is not enough
that would explain your pain, okay? But I know that
right after the MRI, you went and told Ms. Lissfelt
that you had pinched nerves and bulging nerves and
crunched nerves and, you know, discs - now, you
went and told Ms. Lissfelt that your neck MRI was,
like catastrophic right after you had it. And the
reality of it was, it wasn’t catastrophic.
You know, so you have to -
I mean, I’m trying to get you to start thinking about
things a little bit differently.
I don’t know what the problems -
I mean, basically, you hear that there’s a little bit of
disease and you’re convinced that, you know, you’ve
got a lot of disease. And you don’t have a lot of
disease in your neck, you don’t have a lot of disease
in your knee anymore. What you have, objectively,
the actual tests don’t explain all your pain. But let me
tell you - I’ll tell you a couple other things I know.
This is a lot of information to take in. But people who
are in chronic pain get depressed. Real common. It’s
another one of those things that -
- makes you human. Doesn’t make you crazy, doesn’t
make you a bad person, doesn’t make you weak. The
simple form - wait until your daughter gets older,
she’ll explain it all to you - the body works, it’s all
electric charges and chemicals, okay? So when the “I
hurt” stuff, you know, you’re focused on all your
pain, you’re focused on all your pain, you’re focused
on what you can’t do, you’re focused on how much
you hurt, those feelings, those chemicals and charges
take up all the space. The “I feel good” stuff doesn’t
have anywhere to go. It can’t get into the brain, and
it can’t get out of the brain, because the “I’m
miserable and I hurt” stuff 13
I laugh -
Oh, I laugh and I smile at my daughter and don’t
show her any pain, and I’m happy and can have some
Well, no, I know. But in - over the long haul, the way
the body works, at the end of the day you’re
depressed. Of course - I’m not saying that every
single moment is depressed. I’m saying that there’s
just a flattening of sort of everything, okay? And one
way to deal with the pain, and you had it exactly
right, was you also deal with the depression, because
the pain does make you depressed. But dealing with
the depression can also help you manage your pain
better. You know, pain makes depression worse and
depression makes pain worse. They feed on each
other. It’s a reinforcing cycle. It is called the paindepression syndrome. I didn’t make it up. I got a
flyer over here at Northwestern Memorial Hospital
In sum, a review of the administrative hearing transcript reveals quite clearly that the
ALJ failed to question Plaintiff in any meaningful way about his perceived functional limitations.
The ALJ instead opined at length on human biology, disease diagnosis and treatment, pharmacology,
psychology, her perceived inefficacy of the treatment approach adopted by Plaintiff’s care providers,
and her own preferred course of medical treatment.
It is well understood that an ALJ is not permitted to “play doctor” and make their
own independent medical findings or otherwise substitute their own independent medical judgment
for the findings and opinions made by licensed medical professionals. see, e.g., Boulis-Gasche v.
Commissioner of Social Security, 451 Fed. Appx. 488, 494 (6th Cir., Aug. 23, 2011); Campbell v.
Commissioner of Social Security, 2017 WL 2222926 (N.D. Ohio, May 3, 2017). As one court
succinctly stated, “[a]n ALJ is not allowed to make medical findings or indulge in unfounded
hunches about the claimant’s medical condition or prospect for improvement. He is not free to base
his decision on such unstated reasons or hunches.” Holt v. Astrue, 2012 WL 1567164 at *5 (N.D.
Ala., Apr. 30, 2012).
The Court recognizes that the ALJ is properly tasked with assessing credibility and
resolving conflicts in the record. The Court also recognizes that the line between resolving conflicts
in the record and “playing doctor” can sometimes be difficult to discern. However, as the discussion
above reveals, wherever that line is properly drawn, the ALJ was clearly on the wrong side of the
line. Simply put, the ALJ spent the majority of the administrative hearing opining about matters that
are beyond her purview and training. As a result, it is not reasonable to conclude that the ALJ’s
assessment of Plaintiff’s credibility was not substantially informed by her amateur opinions
regarding Plaintiff’s impairments, diagnosis, and treatment. As a result, the Court concludes that
the ALJ’s rationale for discounting Plaintiff’s subjective allegations is not supported by substantial
Remand is Appropriate
While the Court finds that the ALJ’s decision fails to comply with the relevant legal
standards, Plaintiff can be awarded benefits only if “all essential factual issues have been resolved”
and “the record adequately establishes [his] entitlement to benefits.” Faucher v. Secretary of Health
and Human Serv’s, 17 F.3d 171, 176 (6th Cir. 1994); see also, Brooks v. Commissioner of Social
Security, 531 Fed. Appx. 636, 644 (6th Cir., Aug. 6, 2013). This latter requirement is satisfied
“where the proof of disability is overwhelming or where proof of disability is strong and evidence
to the contrary is lacking.” Faucher, 17 F.3d at 176; see also, Brooks, 531 Fed. Appx. at 644.
Evaluation of Plaintiff’s claim requires the resolution of certain factual disputes which this Court
is neither competent nor authorized to undertake in the first instance. Moreover, there does not exist
compelling evidence that Plaintiff is disabled. Accordingly, this matter must be remanded for
further administrative action.
For the reasons articulated herein, the Court concludes that the ALJ’s decision is not
supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Commissioner’s decision is vacated and the
matter remanded for further factual findings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
A judgment consistent with this opinion will enter.
Date: August 9, 2017
/s/ Ellen S. Carmody
ELLEN S. CARMODY
United States Magistrate Judge
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