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Motin v. Commissioner of Social Security

April 30, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert H. Cleland United States District Judge


On April 6, 2010, Magistrate Judge Charles E. Binder issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") in the above-captioned matter, recommending that this court grant Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's "Motion for Summary Judgment" and deny Plaintiff Shimroze Motin's "Motion for Summary Judgment." On April 14, 2010, Plaintiff filed timely objections to the R&R, and the Government filed a response on April 28, 2010. The court concludes that a hearing is unnecessary. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(e)(2). For the reasons stated below, the court will overrule Plaintiff's objections, adopt the R&R, grant Defendant's "Motion for Summary Judgment," and deny Plaintiff's "Motion for Summary Judgment."


The sole issue before the court involves Plaintiff's alleged illiteracy, and the Magistrate Judge accurately detailed the administrative record. The court will therefore not describe Plaintiff's medical record in detail, and will instead briefly set forth the pertinent facts concerning Plaintiff's ability to read and write. (See Pl.'s Mot. Br. at 2 ("Plaintiff has no dispute with the medical assessment and findings of the ALJ. . . . The area of dispute obviously involves the findings, or lack thereof, on literacy.").)

When Plaintiff applied for Social Security benefits, she completed a "Disability Report - Adult - Form SSA -3368." (Tr. at 51.) On the form, Plaintiff indicated that she could "read and understand English" and that she could "write more than [her] name in English." (Id. at 52.) A field office employee conducted a face-to-face interview with Plaintiff and filled out a "Disability Report - Field Office - Form SSA-3367." (Id. at 48.) The form indicates that Plaintiff had no difficulty reading or writing. (Id. at 49.) Plaintiff also signed two "Fee Agreements" with her representatives which were written in English. (Id. at 36, 143.)

Plaintiff appeared for a hearing before the ALJ on March 12, 2008, accompanied by a non-attorney representative. (Id. at 212-14.) Also present at the hearing was a vocational expert and a Bengali interpreter. (Id. at 214-16.) During the examination of Plaintiff, the ALJ asked Plaintiff, "Can you read and write English?" (Id. at 215.) Plaintiff responded, "My memory is not that good. That's why I can't do it." (Id.) Plaintiff also testified that she had a twelfth grade education in Bangladesh and that she has lived in the United States for almost twenty years. (Id.)

Prior to the hearing, Plaintiff's representative submitted to the ALJ a document entitled "Proposed Conclusion and Findings of Facts." (Id. at 141.) The document stated that Plaintiff "completed the 12th grade and has no special skills." (Id.) It further detailed Plaintiff's impairments of asthma, depression, and diabetes and explained how these impairments limited Plaintiff. (Id.) However, the document made no mention of Plaintiff's alleged inability to read and write. (Id.)

On August 19, 2008, the ALJ issued a written decision concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled under the meaning of the Social Security Act, (id. at 16-22), and on June 26, 2009, the Appeals Council found no reason to review the ALJ's decision, (id. at 5-7). In the decision, the ALJ described Plaintiff as "a 52-year-old individual with a high school education in Bangladesh." (Id. at 18.) The ALJ noted that she "has been in the United States almost 20 years at the time of the hearing" and that she "speaks 'pretty good broken English' and was easily understood at the hearing." (Id.)

After considering the record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to: perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except with lifting and carrying 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently; 6 hours standing/walking; 2 hours sitting; avoiding concentrated exposure to unprotected heights, vibrating tools, moving machinery, and dust, fumes and gases; and she is able to handle work involving simple tasks. (Id. at 19-20.) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work, was "closely approaching advanced age" as of March 7, 2006, and has "at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English." (Id. at 21.) Based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded that there "are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform." (Id.) In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ utilized the framework of Medical-Vocational Rule 202.13. (Id. at 22.)

On August 25, 2009, Plaintiff sought review of the Commissioner's decision in this court. The case was referred to Magistrate Judge Binder, and both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The Magistrate Judge recommended granting Defendant's "Motion for Summary Judgment," concluding that substantial evidence supported the Commissioner's determination. (R&R at 1.) Plaintiff has lodged timely objections to the Magistrate Judge's R&R.


A. Substantial Evidence Standard

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. When the Appeals Council declines review, "the decision of the ALJ becomes the final decision of the [Commissioner]." Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1233 (6th Cir. 1993) (per curiam). "The decision of an ALJ is reviewed to determine whether it is supported by substantial evidence and consistent with applicable law." Pittsburgh & Conneaut Dock Co., v. Dir., Office of Workers' Comp. Programs, 473 F.3d 253, 258 (6th Cir. 2007). This judicial review is limited to the record and evidence that was before the ALJ. Cline v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 96 F.3d 146, 148 (6th Cir. 1996) (citing Cotton v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 692, 696 (6th Cir. 1993)).

The court's review of the record for substantial evidence is quite deferential to the ALJ's evaluation of the facts. The court must uphold the ALJ's finding if supported by substantial evidence. "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion," Pittsburgh & Conneaut Dock Co., 473 F.3d at 259 (citation omitted), "even if that evidence could support a decision the other way," Casey, 987 F.2d at 1233. Moreover, the court bases its review on the entire record, not just what the ALJ cited. Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 535 ...

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