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Bondy v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division

March 31, 2015

MARY BONDY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

ORDER OVERRULING OBJECTIONS (DOCUMENT NO. 30), ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION (DOCUMENT NO. 29), DENYING BONDY’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCUMENT NO. 23), DENYING AS MOOT BONDY'S MOTION FOR EXTENSION OF TIME (DOCUMENT NO. 27), GRANTING COMMISSIONER’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCUMENT NO. 26), AND DISMISSING CASE

STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III United States District Judge

Mary Bondy applied for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income in 2003. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied the claim, but the Appeals Council granted review and remanded the case for another hearing. Another ALJ held a hearing and once more denied her claim. The Appeals Council once more granted review and remanded the case. In 2012, another ALJ conducted a hearing, at which Bondy once more testified. The ALJ again denied her claim. After the Appeals Council denied review, Bondy appealed the decision to this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both parties then filed cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 23, 26.

The Court referred the motions to a United States Magistrate Judge, who issued a Report and Recommendation ("Report") advising the Court to grant the Commissioner’s motion, deny Bondy’s motion, and dismiss the case. ECF No. 29. Bondy filed fifteen timely objections. ECF No. 30. The Court has reviewed the filings, will adopt the Report, overrule the objections, and dismiss the case.

BACKGROUND

The magistrate judge thoroughly documented the evidence in this case. While Bondy filed objections to the magistrate’s reasoning, she lodges no complaint against his recitation of the facts. Accordingly, the Court will adopt the factual section of the magistrate’s opinion.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A claimant may appeal a Social Security Administration decision to a United States district court. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The district court's review, however, "is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards." Gayheart v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 710 F.3d 365, 374 (6th Cir. 2013) (citations omitted). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (citations omitted). "A reviewing court will affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on substantial evidence, even if substantial evidence would also have supported the opposite conclusion." Id. (citations omitted). Nonetheless, an "ALJ's failure to follow agency rules and regulations denotes a lack of substantial evidence, even where the conclusion of the ALJ may be justified based on the record." Id. (citations omitted).

DISCUSSION

I. Credibility Determination (Objections 1, 2, 10)

Bondy’s initial set of objections is that the ALJ did not adequately credit her testimony. While the ALJ acknowledged she suffered from a host of maladies, he did not credit her statements that her condition was debilitating. Courts generally defer to ALJ credibility determinations. Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 531 (6th Cir. 1997). The ALJ is “charged with observing the claimant’s demeanor and credibility, ” and courts therefore review ALJ credibility determinations only for substantial evidence. Cruse v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 542 (6th Cir. 2007).

In this case, the ALJ adequately explained why he did not fully credit her testimony. Bondy alleged she was in crippling pain and had frequent headaches, yet was on no pain medications. She had never sought emergency medical treatment, and only sporadically saw a doctor. One time in 2007 she did seek help regarding her headaches, but the MRI came back normal and the doctor did not prescribe any medicine. Furthermore, she failed to follow her physician’s advice to get regular exercise, thus leading the ALJ to find her pain not as serious as alleged. In addition, her statements regarding her daily household activities and chores were inconsistent, as were her statements about how long her daughter and granddaughter had lived with her. Finally, the Court notes three different ALJs have observed Bondy, and none found her credible. Tr. 30–31, 443, 455. Accordingly, the Court finds the ALJ’s credibility determination was supported by substantial evidence and overrules Bondy’s objections. II. Treating Source Opinion (Objection 3, 8, 9)

Next, Bondy asserts the ALJ did not have “good reasons” for rejecting Bondy’s two treating source opinions. When a treating source’s opinion is “well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the case record, it must be given controlling weight.” Hensley v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 263, 266 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Wilson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004)); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2). The ALJ must articulate “good reasons” for not giving controlling weight to the opinion. Blakley v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 409 (6th Cir. 2009). If the treating source opinion is not given controlling weight, an ALJ must examine “the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination, the nature and extent of the treatment relationship, supportability of the opinion, consistency of the opinion with the record as a whole, and the specialization of the treating source-in determining what weight to give the opinion.” Wilson, 378 F.3d at 544.

The ALJ did not fully credit Dr. Dona’s 2010 treating source opinion, which was provided only after two ALJs had already rejected Bondy’s benefits application. Dr. Dona’s opinion stated Bondy would routinely need unscheduled twenty minute work breaks, that she would need to elevate her legs ninety degrees ten percent of each work day, and that she would miss more than four work days per month. Tr. 31. The ALJ noted no objective medical evidence, including Dr. Dona’s own treatment notes, that supported these severe restrictions. Indeed, Dr. Dona had previously “never restricted the claimant from any particular activity during the course of treatment.” Tr. 31. And the limitations were inconsistent with Bondy’s daily activities. Accordingly, the ALJ afforded Dr. Dona’s opinion limited weight to the extent consistent ...


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