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Wagers v. Astrue

January 17, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leon Jordan United States District Judge


This is an action for judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of defendant Commissioner's final decision denying plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. For the reasons set forth herein, defendant's motion for summary judgment [doc. 12] will be denied, and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [doc. 9] will be granted to the extent it seeks remand pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).*fn1


Procedural History Plaintiff applied for benefits in April 2004, claiming to be disabled by "[illegible], high blood pressure, rare psorasis [sic] on feet, hands and advancing to other parts of body, carpatunal [sic], nerves, heart problems, small tumor on left side of head, panic attacks, stomach problems, [and a] hiatal hernia." [Tr. 44, 52]. She alleged a disability onset date of January 19, 2004, which was subsequently amended to August 1, 2004. [Tr. 44, 561]. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing, which took place before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") in January 2006.

In April 2006, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim. He determined, at step two of the sequential evaluation process, that plaintiff suffers from the "severe" impairment of hypertension but that she has no other severe impairment pertaining to vision, migraines, heart disease, psoriasis, or mental illness. [Tr. 22-24]. Plaintiff was found capable of the full range of medium exertion and able to return to her past relevant work as an administrative assistant. [Tr. 24]. Accordingly, she was deemed ineligible for benefits.

Plaintiff then sought, and was denied, review by the Commissioner's Appeals Council, notwithstanding her submission of sixty-one pages of additional medical evidence. [Tr. 8, 11].*fn2 The ALJ's ruling became the Commissioner's final decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Through her timely complaint, plaintiff has properly brought her case before this court for review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981.

II. Background and Testimony

Plaintiff was born in 1948. [Tr. 44]. She alleges worsening episodes of psoriasis which limit her walking and cause "excruciating" pain. [Tr. 106-07, 140-41, 553-54, 559-60]. Plaintiff claims to be further limited by 20/200 blurred vision in her left eye [Tr. 554-55], migraines [Tr. 560], and weakness and numbness of the upper left extremity. [Tr. 108, 153]. Plaintiff contends that her physical problems are worsened by workplace stress. [Tr. 52]. Plaintiff can drive, work in her garden, perform some housework, attend church, shop, prepare simple meals, and "frequently visit[] her mother." [Tr. 154-55, 371, 373, 556].

III. Applicable Legal Standards

This court's review is confined to whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether his factual findings were supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). "Substantial evidence" is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The substantial evidence standard "presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which the decisionmakers can go either way, without interference by the courts." Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (citation omitted). Nonetheless, the court must take care not to "abdicate [its] conventional judicial function," despite the narrow scope of review. Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 490 (1951).

A claimant is entitled to disability insurance payments under the Social Security Act if she (1) is insured for disability insurance benefits, (2) has not attained retirement age, (3) has filed an application for disability insurance benefits, and (4) is under a disability. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1). "Disability" is 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).

An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(2)(A). Disability is evaluated pursuant to a five-step analysis summarized by the Sixth Circuit as follows:

1. If 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 ...

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