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Mitcheltree v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 8, 2015

WILLIAM E. MITCHELTREE, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER: (1) DENYING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS (ECF NO. 22); (2) ADOPTING THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION (ECF NO. 21); (3) DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO. 16); AND (4) GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO. 19)

PAUL D. BORMAN, District Judge.

On October 14, 2014, Magistrate Judge Patricia T. Morris issued a Report and Recommendation addressing the outstanding motions in this action. (ECF No. 21, Report and Recommendation). In the Report and Recommendation, the Magistrate Judge recommends that this Court deny Plaintiff William E. Mitcheltree, Sr.'s pro se motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 16). Further, the Magistrate Judge recommends that this Court grant Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 19).

Now before the Court is Plaintiff's Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 22). Having conducted a de novo review of the parts of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation to which objections have been filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and for all the reasons set forth below, the Court will DENY Plaintiff's Objections, ADOPT the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, DENY Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, and GRANT the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

The Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") findings and the pertinent portions of the Administrative Record are accurately and adequately set forth in the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and the Court adopts them here. (ECF No. 21, Report and Recommendation at 7-11). Briefly, the Plaintiff protectively filed for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on February 25, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of December 3, 2008, the same date he underwent a right-sided hemilaminotomy with partial discectomy. (Tr. 16, 154-55, 214-15). Plaintiff alleged disability due to constant pain in his lower back and down his legs. (Tr. 53). Plaintiff's application was denied on July 20, 2011 and he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 51-57, 58). That hearing was held on February 9, 2012, before ALJ Timothy C. Scallen; Plaintiff was represented by counsel and a Vocational Expert ("VE") testified at the hearing. (Tr. 27-50).

On June 29, 2012, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 16-23). The ALJ concluded in his decision that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairment of "lumbar radiculopathy status-post right-sided L4-5 hemilaminotomy with partial discectomy, lumbar post-laminectomy syndrome, and degenerative joint disease of the lumbar and thoracic spine with herniated nucleus pulposus at T11-12 and L5-S1". (Tr. 18). The ALJ then determined that the Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments because there was:

no compromise of a nerve root or the spinal cord with evidence of nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine, or motor loss (atrophy and/or weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and positive straight-leg raising (in both the sitting and supine position), as required by Listing 1.04.

(Tr. 18). In light of the entire record, and specifically incorporating the limitations to accommodate his physical limitations and pain, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had the residual functioning capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) "except he is limited to occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling and should avoid all climbing of ropes, ladders, and scaffolds. He should also avoid overhead reaching and concentrated exposure to unprotected heights, moving machinery, and vibrating tools." (Tr. 19, 19-22). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his past relevant work, but relying upon the testimony of the VE found that a significant number of jobs existed in southeast Michigan that Plaintiff was capable of performing, namely as a sorter, visual inspector, and assembler. (Tr. 22-23). Therefore, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 23).

Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision. On July 9, 2013, the Appeals Council denied his request for review, and the ALJ's decision became the agency's final decision. (Tr. 1-4).

Thereafter, on August 20, 2013, Plaintiff filed his pro se complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the Defendant Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 1). The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment which were ultimately referred for decision to Magistrate Judge Morris. (ECF Nos. 16 & 19). Plaintiff also filed a response to the Defendant Commissioner's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 20). On October 27, 2014, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation which recommended denying Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and granting Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 21). The Magistrate Judge found that there was substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff remains capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the economy. ( Id. ). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed his Objections to the Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 22).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Where a party has objected to portions of a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, the Court conducts a de novo review of those portions. FED. R. CIV. P. 72(b); Lyons v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 351 F.Supp.2d 659, 661 (E.D. Mich. 2004). In reviewing the findings of the ALJ, the Court is limited to determining whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence and made pursuant to proper legal standards. See Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(h)); see also Cutlip v. Sec't of Health and Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (1994) ("Judicial review of the Secretary's decisions is limited to determining whether the Secretary's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the Secretary employed the proper legal standards."). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Kyle v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 609 F.3d 847, 854 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Lindsley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601, 604 (6th Cir. 2009)); see also McGlothin v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 299 F.Appx. 516, 522 (6th Cir. 2008) (recognizing 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.") (internal quotations omitted). "If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, we must defer to that decision, even if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion.'" Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005)).

This Court does not "try the case de novo, nor resolve conflicts in the evidence, nor decide questions of credibility." Cutlip, 25 F.3d at 286. Indeed, "[i]t is of course for the ALJ, and not the reviewing court, to evaluate the credibility of witnesses, including that of the claimant." Rogers, 486 F.3d at 247; see Cruse v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 542 (6th Cir. 2007) (providing that the "ALJ's credibility determinations about the claimant are to be given great ...


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