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Kellett v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 14, 2015

DENNIS KELLETT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [19], GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [14], DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [15], REVERSING THE FINDINGS OF THE COMMISSIONER, AND REMANDING THE CASE FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

LAURIE J. MICHELSON, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Magistrate Judge Charles E. Binder's Report and Recommendation (Dkt. 19) that Plaintiff Dennis Kellett's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted, Defendant Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 15) be denied, and the findings of the Commissioner reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. The Commissioner timely filed objections to the Report and Recommendation (Dkt. 20) and Kellett responded (Dkt. 21). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's objections are OVERRULED, the Magistrate Judge's Recommendation is ACCEPTED, and the Report is ADOPTED. Accordingly, the Court will REVERSE the findings of the Commissioner and REMAND the case for further proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

I. BACKGROUND

Kellett applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Social Security Income on May 11, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2008. (Dkt. 9, Tr. at 15.) His claims were initially denied on October 6, 2010, and he filed a request for hearing on November 29, 2010. ( Id. ) He appeared via videoconference before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Julia D. Gibbs on February 1, 2012. ( Id. ) The ALJ found that Kellett was not disabled on February 10, 2012. ( Id. ) The Appeals Council denied Kellet's request for review on May 3, 2013. ( Id. at 1.) Kellett filed suit in this Court on July 2, 2013. (Dkt. 1.) Magistrate Judge Binder entered his Report and Recommendation on September 25, 2014. (Dkt. 19.) The Commissioner timely filed objections to the Report (Dkt. 20) and Kellett filed a response to those objections (Dkt. 21).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court performs a de novo review of those portions of Magistrate Judge Binder's Report and Recommendation to which the Commissioner has objected. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). The Court need not and does not perform a de novo review of the report's unobjected-to findings. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985); Garrison v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, No. 10-cv-13990, 2012 WL 1278044, at *8 (E.D. Mich. Apr. 16, 2012) ("The Court is not obligated to review the portions of the report to which no objection was made." (citing Arn, 474 U.S. at 149-52)).

"This Court must affirm the Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standards or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record." Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). "The substantial evidence standard is met if a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion." Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (explaining that substantial evidence is "more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."). Under this standard, the Court affirms the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence even if the evidence could support a different conclusion. Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997).

III. ANALYSIS

The Magistrate Judge found that the ALJ erred in two ways: first, by improperly segregating the effects of Kellett's bipolar disorder from the effects of his alcohol dependence, and second, by improperly rejecting the findings of Dr. Elaine Tripi, Ph.D. and ignoring the opinions of social workers Mona Sander and Dave Anderson. The Commissioner objected to both of these findings, arguing that the ALJ examined both the bipolar disorder and the alcohol dependence, and that the ALJ properly rejected the opinions of Dr. Tripi due to their basis on subjective complaints by Kellett. (Obj. at 3-4.) These objections are unpersuasive.

A. Substance Abuse-Related Impairments

Under the Social Security Act and its implementing regulations, ALJs are to follow the five-step sequential evaluation process before considering whether drug or alcohol abuse is a contributing factor material to a determination of disability. The Act provides, in relevant part:

An individual shall not be considered to be disabled for purposes of this subchapter if alcoholism or drug addiction would (but for this subparagraph) be a contributing factor material to the ...

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