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Smith v. Commissioner of Social Security

March 24, 2010

WILLIAM A. SMITH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Patrick J. Duggan United States District Judge

Honorable Patrick J. Duggan

OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND REMANDING MATTER FOR FURTHER REVIEW

At a session of said Court, held in the U.S. District Courthouse, Eastern District of Michigan, on March 24, 2010.

PRESENT: THE HONORABLE PATRICK J. DUGGAN U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

Plaintiff applied for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits on September 20, 2007, alleging that he became disabled on July 18, 2005. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's request for benefits initially. Upon Plaintiff's request, a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") was held on June 4, 2008. The ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled in a decision dated October 10, 2008. The Appeals Council, after reviewing additional documents submitted by Plaintiff, denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 21, 2008. Thus the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner"). Plaintiff thereafter initiated the pending action.

Both parties have filed motions for summary judgment, which this Court referred to Magistrate Judge Michael Hluchaniuk. On February 22, 2010, Magistrate Judge Hluchaniuk filed his Report and Recommendation (R&R) recommending that this Court deny Plaintiff's and the Commissioner's motions and remand the matter to the Commissioner for further review consistent with the R&R. At the conclusion of the R&R, Magistrate Judge Hluchaniuk advises the parties that they may object and seek review of the R&R within fourteen days of service upon them. (R&R at 32.) Magistrate Judge Hluchaniuk specifically warns the parties that "[f]ailure to file specific objections constitutes a waiver of any further right of appeal." (Id.)

Plaintiff filed objections to the R&R on March 5, 2010. The Commissioner filed a response to Plaintiff's objections on March 19, 2010. The matter now is ripe for this Court's review.

Standard of Review

Under 42 U.S.C. Section 405(g):

Any individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing to which he was a party . . . may obtain a review of such decision by a civil action . . . The court shall have the power to enter . . . a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing. The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . .

42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (emphasis added); see Boyes v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 46 F.3d 510, 511-12 (6th Cir. 1994). "Substantial evidence is defined as 'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Abbott v. Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 922-23 (6th Cir. 1990) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971)). The Commissioner's findings are not subject to reversal because substantial evidence exists in the record to support a different conclusion. Mullen v. Brown, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (citing Baker v. Kechler, 730 F.2d 1147, 1150 (8th Cir. 1984)). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court must affirm. Studaway v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 815 F.2d 1074, 1076 (6th Cir. 1987).

The court reviews de novo the parts of an R&R to which a party objects. See FED. R. CIV. P. 72(b); Thomas v. Halter, 131 F. Supp. 2d 942, 944 (E.D. Mich. 2001). However, the Court "is not required to articulate all the reasons it rejects a party's objections." Id.

Analysis

An ALJ considering a disability claim is required to follow a five-step process to evaluate the claim. 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1520(a)(4). If the ALJ determines that the claimant is disabled or not disabled at a step, the ALJ makes his or her decision and does not proceed further. Id. However, if the ALJ does not find that the claimant is disabled or not disabled at a step, the ALJ must proceed to the next step. Id. "The burden of proof is on the claimant through the first four steps . . . If the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that the claimant is not disabled, the burden transfers to the [defendant]." ...


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