United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
ORDER ACCEPTING AND ADOPTING REPORT AND
RECOMMENDATION (#24), OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTION
(#25), GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
(#20), DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (#
17), AND DISMISSING ACTION
GERSHWIN A. DRAIN United States District Judge
matter is before the court on the parties' Cross-Motions
for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff Lonette Houston's
claim for judicial review of Defendant Commissioner of Social
Security's denial of her applications for a period of
disability, for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income benefits. The matter was
referred to Magistrate Judge Mona K. Majzoub, who issued a
Report and Recommendation on November 9, 2016, recommending
that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment be denied,
Defendant Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment be
granted, and Plaintiff's Complaint be dismissed.
Plaintiff filed an objection to the Report and Recommendation
on November 22, 2016. The Commissioner filed a Response to
Plaintiff's Objection on November 30, 2016. For the
reasons discussed below, the Court will accept and adopt the
Magistrate Judge's recommendation and dismiss this
standard of review to be employed by the court when examining
a report and recommendation is set forth in 28 U.S.C. §
636. This Court “shall make a de novo determination of
those portions of the report or specified proposed findings
or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). This court “may accept,
reject or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or
recommendations made by the magistrate.” Id.
district court may affirm, modify, or reverse the
Commissioner's decision, with or without remand.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Findings of fact by the
Commissioner are conclusive if supported by substantial
evidence. Id. The court must affirm the decision if
it is “based on [an appropriate] legal standard and is
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a
whole.” Studaway v. Sec'y of Health and Human
Servs., 815 F.2d 1074, 1076 (6th Cir. 1987). Substantial
evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
applied for a period of disability, disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income benefits on
November 26, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of
January 19, 2012. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
determined that while the Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since January 19, 2012, and had
the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease,
left shoulder partial tear, bilateral knee pain, and anemia;
she had not been under a disability within the meaning of the
Social Security Act from January 19, 2012 through the date of
the ALJ's decision. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was
capable of performing past relevant work as a receptionist,
as well as a significant number of other jobs in the local
and national economy.
sole objection concerns the ALJ's Step Three analysis.
The Magistrate Judge found harmless error occurred when the
ALJ failed to address whether Plaintiff's impairments met
the criteria for Listing 1.04A (Disorders of the Spine) in
her Step Three analysis. While acknowledging the ALJ's
oversight at Step Three, the Magistrate Judge also noted that
later in the ALJ's decision, she “discussed
Plaintiff's spinal impairments in specific enough terms
to make it clear that Plaintiff did not meet the criteria of
Listing 1.04A . . . .” Pg ID 488.
the third step in the disability evaluation process, a
claimant will be found disabled if his impairment meets or
equals one of the listings in the Listing of
Impairments.” Reynolds v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 424 F.App'x 411, 414 (6th Cir.Apr. 1,
2011)(citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
416.920(a)(4)(iii); Turner v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 381 F.App'x 488, 491(6th Cir. 2010)).
“Each listing specifies the ‘objective medical
and other findings needed to satisfy the criteria of that
listing.'” Id. (citing C.F.R. §
404.1525(a)). The ALJ “must analyze the claimant's
impairments in relation to the Listed Impairments and give a
reasoned explanation of his findings and conclusions in order
to facilitate meaningful review.” Christephore v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 11-cv013547, 2012 WL
2274328, at *6 (E.D. Mich. Jun. 18, 2012)(citing
Reynolds, 424 F.App'x at 416). Listing 1.04A
Disorders of the spine (e.g., herniated nucleus pulposus,
spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis,
degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, vertebral
fracture), resulting in compromise of a nerve root (including
the cauda equine) or the spinal code. With:
A. Evidence of nerve root compression characterized by
neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of
the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle
weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex
loss and, if there is involvement of the lower back, positive
straight-leg raising test . . . .
20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P., App.1.
conceded that the ALJ failed to properly analyze or explain
why Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically
equal Listing 1.04A. However, as the Magistrate Judge
correctly found, the evidence demonstrates that
Plaintiff's condition could not have met or equaled
Listing 1.04A because she did not present any medical
evidence of “motor loss . . . accompanied by sensory or
reflex loss.” Id. As noted by the Magistrate
Judge, after her Step Three Analysis, the ALJ thoroughly
discussed Plaintiff's impairments rendering it beyond
dispute that Plaintiff is unable to satisfy the criteria of
Listing 1.04A. Pg ID 488. Thus, the ALJ's error at Step
Three was harmless.
Court has held in the past that it will not overturn an
ALJ's decision if the failure to articulate step-three
findings is harmless. See M.G. v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec.,861 F.Supp.2d 846, 859-60 (E.D. Mich. 2012)(citing
Scott ex rel. Scott v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 818, 822
(8th Cir. 2008) (“As a general rule, we have held that
an ALJ's failure to adequately explain his factual
findings is ‘not a sufficient reason for setting aside
an administrative finding' where the record supports the
overall determination.”); NLRB v. Wyman-Gordon
Co., 394 U.S. 759, 766 n.6 (1969)(noting that courts are
not required to “convert judicial review of agency
action into a ping-pong game” where “remand would
be an idle and useless formality.”); White v.
Colvin, No. 4:12-cv-11600, 2013 WL 5212629, at *7 (E.D.
Mich. Sept. 16, 2013)(recognizing that a court may find an
ALJ's failure to explicitly discuss whether a claimant
meets or medically equals a listing at step three to be
harmless error when the ALJ on the record “described
evidence pertaining to all impairments, both severe and
non-severe, . . . in his opinion and made factual
findings.”); Bacon v. Astrue, No.
1:11-cv-01805-BYP, 2012 WL 3112366, at *5 (N.D. Ohio Jul. 31,
2012)(“[a]ssuming arguendo that the ALJ did not provide
the analysis until after Step Three, ...