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Paris v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 29, 2015

ANDREW JOHN PARIS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. 34) AND DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. 31)

AVERN COHN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

I. INTRODUCTION

This is a social security case. Plaintiff Andrew John Paris (Plaintiff) appeals from the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying his application for Social Security Disability Benefits. Plaintiff claims disability since September 10, 2009, due to diabetes mellitus, sleep apnea, hypertension, coronary artery disease, obesity, and asthma. (Tr. at 25)

The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 31, 34) The motions were referred to a magistrate judge (MJ) for a report and recommendation (R&R). (Doc. 39) The MJ recommends the Court deny Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and grant the Commissioner’s motion.

Now before the Court is Plaintiff’s Objection to the R&R. (Doc. 47) For the following reasons, the Court will adopt the R&R as the findings and conclusions of the Court, as supplemented herein. The Commissioner’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 34) is GRANTED and Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 31) is DENIED.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural Background

The R&R sets forth the facts, many of which are repeated here. Plaintiff applied for disability benefits in January 2010, claiming that he was disabled and unable to work since September 10, 2009, at age 63, due to diabetes mellitus, sleep apnea, hypertension, coronary artery disease, obesity, and asthma. (Tr. at 25) The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff’s claim. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ).

The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to return to his past light work as a vocational instructor. However, the ALJ limited Plaintiff to work that did not require him to drive, crawl or climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and noted that he could only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, or crouch. The Appeals Council declined to review the decision. Plaintiff then commenced the instant action for judicial review of the denial of benefits. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment on the issue of whether the Commissioner’s denial of benefits was supported by substantial evidence in the record. The motions were referred to a MJ, who rejected Plaintiff’s assertions, found that there was substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ’s decision, and recommended the Court deny Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and grant the Commissioner’s motion.

B. The Administrative Hearing Testimony

Plaintiff was 64 years old at the time of the administrative hearing. He had been employed during the relevant past as a vocational instructor at Focus Hope, where he taught students drafting and automobile design until September 2009, when he was laid off due to a decline in enrollment. However, he indicated that he was “counting on” returning to work at Focus Hope, and that his manager there would consider rehiring him if enrollment increased. (Tr. at 108)

Regarding his impairments, Plaintiff testified that he has been on insulin for diabetes since 2001, and that he has vision problems due to diabetic retinopathy. He stated that he underwent laser surgery on his right eye but that he is still unable to read small font sizes on a computer screen or drive at night. Plaintiff stated that he could walk for ten minutes before needing to sit down, but that he has experienced increasing numbness due to neuropathy over the past four to five years. Plaintiff stated that he has experienced some fatigue and shortness of breath due to the blockage of a coronary artery, eventually undergoing heart surgery to remove the occlusion. After the procedure, Plaintiff reported feeling much better and being able to breathe normally. Plaintiff testified that, on a normal day, he gets up, eats breakfast, performs on-line banking, goes out for walks, reads, watches television, and enjoys such hobbies as building furniture, making jewelry boxes, and constructing model ships.

A vocational expert (VE) classified Plaintiff’s past work as light, skilled activity, which does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by his RFC limitations. (Tr. at 31) The VE testified that assuming Plaintiff’s limitations, an individual could perform work as a vocational instructor-a job which does not require driving, crawling, or the climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and requires only occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, and crouching.

C. Medical Evidence

The ALJ considered Plaintiff’s longitudinal medical history, including the opinions of several medical sources. The relevant opinions, as well as their relative weight given by the ALJ, are summarized below.

Between October 2007 and June 2011, Plaintiff received care for his coronary artery disease from Steven Timmis, M.D. In August 2009, Plaintiff was evaluated for several chronic medical conditions including: coronary atherosclerosis and palpitations with a history of a coronary artery stent; hypertension; high cholesterol; diabetes mellitus; acid reflux; obstructive sleep apnea and COPD; lower extremity edema; and excess weight. (Tr. at 440) The ALJ noted that although Plaintiff required treatment with several stents, by March 2010 Plaintiff reported to Dr. Timmis that he was “able to walk and swim without significant symptoms.” (Tr. at 555)

In May 2010, Plaintiff underwent a state consultative examination by Bina Shaw, M.D. Dr. Shaw diagnosed Plaintiff with obesity, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, gastroesophageal reflux disease, hypothyroidism, diabetic retinopathy, sleep apnea, fatty liver disease, and post coronary angioplasty. Dr. Shaw concluded that Plaintiff can only work four to six hours a day; can only work in a sitting position doing non-cognitive work; should only stand intermittently; should avoid heights and machinery and lift no more than ten pounds. The ALJ gave Dr. Shaw’s opinion little weight, stating that Dr. Shaw relied too heavily on Plaintiff’s subjective complaints, and that the limitations described by Dr. Shaw were not supported by the objective test results in the record.

Between January 2009 and April 2011, Plaintiff received treatment by Alla Sakharova, M.D., an endocrinologist, for treatment of diabetes mellitus. By September 2009, Dr. Sakharova noted that Plaintiff’s control of his diabetes had improved. However, Dr. Sakharova also noted that ...


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