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Bonds v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 25, 2015

DAVID BONDS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

PATRICK J. DUGGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff David Bonds seeks judicial review of a final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff's SSI application, protectively filed on May 14, 2010, alleged a disability onset date of September 18, 2008 due to a combination of mental and physical impairments. The Social Security Administration initially denied Plaintiff's application, and, on November 1, 2011, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Kathleen H. Eiler conducted a de novo hearing at which Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified.

The ALJ issued a decision on December 9, 2011, finding Plaintiff not disabled because there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on July 25, 2013, when the Social Security Appeals Council denied review. Plaintiff initiated the instant suit seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's unfavorable decision on September 10, 2013.

The case was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for a report and recommendation ("R&R") on all dispositive matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 72.1(b)(3). Thereafter, the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. On October 28, 2014, Magistrate Judge Charles E. Binder filed his R&R, recommending that Plaintiff's motion be denied, that Defendant's motion be granted, and that the findings of the Commissioner be affirmed. At the conclusion of the R&R, Magistrate Judge Binder advised the parties that they may object to and seek review of the R&R within fourteen days of service upon them. Plaintiff filed objections on November 11, 2014 and Defendant responded on November 24, 2014. Plaintiff's objections to the R&R are before presently before Court. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court will reject Plaintiff's objections and grant summary judgment in favor of Defendant.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides, in pertinent part:

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 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....

Judicial review under this statute is limited: the Court "must affirm the Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standard or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record." Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted).

A district court's review of an ALJ's factual findings involves application of the substantial evidence standard. 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." Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, "it must be affirmed even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently and even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion." Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (internal citations omitted); see also Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (en banc) (noting that the substantial evidence standard "presupposes... a zone of choice within which the decisionmakers can go either way, without interference by the courts") (internal quotation marks omitted).

When reviewing the Commissioner's factual findings for substantial evidence, courts are limited to examining the record and must consider that record as a whole. Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 512-13 (6th Cir. 2007); Wyatt v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 974 F.2d 680, 683 (6th Cir. 1992) (explaining that courts reviewing the Commissioner's factual findings for substantial evidence must consider the evidence in the record as a whole, including evidence which might subtract from its weight). Federal courts may "not reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in evidence, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ." Reynolds v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 424 F.Appx. 411, 414 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing Youghiogheny & Ohio Coal Co. v. Webb, 49 F.3d 244, 246 (6th Cir. 1995)).

The other line of judicial inquiry - reviewing for correctness of the ALJ's legal analysis - may result in reversal even if the record contains substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's factual findings. Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009). "[E]ven if supported by substantial evidence, a decision of the Commissioner will not be upheld where the [Social Security Administration] fails to follow its own regulations and where that error prejudices a claimant on the merits or deprives the claimant of a substantial right.'" Id. (quoting Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746 (6th Cir. 2007) and citing Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 546-47 (6th Cir. 2004)); cf. Buchanan v. Apfel, 249 F.3d 485, 492 (6th Cir. 2001) (the Commissioner has a clear, nondiscretionary duty to comply with social security regulations).

Courts review de novo the parts of an R&R to which a party objects. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); Thomas v. Halter, 131 F.Supp.2d 942, 944 (E.D. Mich. 2001). Courts are not, however, "required to articulate all the reasons it rejects a party's objections." Thomas, 131 F.Supp.2d at 944.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Disability ...


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