United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
RONALD C. ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [17, 21]
DAVID R. GRAND, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Ronald Roberts brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), challenging a final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act (the "Act"). Both parties have filed summary judgment motions [17, 21], which have been referred to this Court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).
For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ) omitted relevant portions of the record and pervasively mischaracterized others, preventing this Court from conducting meaningful substantial evidence review of her opinion. In addition, she failed to comport with the strictures of the treating physician rule, an error this Court cannot find harmless. Accordingly, the Court recommends that the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment  be DENIED, Roberts's motion  be GRANTED and that, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Commissioner's decision be REMANDED for further consideration consistent with this Report and Recommendation.
A. Procedural History
On September 13, 2011, Roberts filed an application for DIB, alleging disability as of March 15, 2011. (Tr. 120-28). The claim was denied initially on November 29, 2011. (Tr. 68-71). Thereafter, Roberts filed a timely request for an administrative hearing, which was held on June 22, 2012, before an ALJ. (Tr. 37-56). Roberts, represented by counsel, testified at the hearing, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). Id. In a written decision dated June 27, 2012, the ALJ found Roberts not disabled. (Tr. 19-34). On August 12, 2013, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of this review. (Tr. 5-9). Roberts filed for judicial review of the final decision on November 11, 2013. .
B. Framework for Disability Determinations
Under the Act, DIB is available only for those who have a "disability." See Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). The Act defines "disability" in relevant part as 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A).
The Commissioner's regulations provide that a disability is to be determined through the application of a five-step sequential analysis:
Step One: If the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Two: If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments that "significantly limits... physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, " benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Three: If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, has a severe impairment that is expected to last for at least twelve months, and the severe impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the regulations, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled regardless of age, education, or work experience.
Step Four: If the claimant is able to perform his or her past relevant work, benefits are denied without further analysis.
Step Five: Even if claimant is unable to perform his or her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that plaintiff can perform, in view of his or her age, education, and work experience, benefits are denied.
Schueuneman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 11-10593, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150240 at *21 (E.D. Mich. Dec. 6, 2011) citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001). "The burden of proof is on the claimant throughout the first four steps.... If the analysis reaches the fifth step without a finding that claimant is not disabled, the burden ...