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Johnson v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 24, 2017




          STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III United States District Judge.

         The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Andrea Johnson's application for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits in a decision issued by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The SSA Appeals Council declined to review the ruling, and Johnson appealed. The Court referred the matter to the magistrate judge and the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation ("Report") suggesting the Court deny Johnson's motion and grant the Commissioner's motion. Johnson filed timely objections. Having examined the record and considered the objections de novo, the Court will overrule the objections, adopt the Report, deny Johnson's motion for summary judgment, grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment, and dismiss the complaint.


         The Report properly details the events giving rise to Johnson's action. Report 1-2, 5-11, ECF No. 21. The Court will adopt that portion of the Report.


         Civil Rule 72(b) governs the review of a magistrate judge's report. A district court's standard of review depends upon whether a party files objections. The Court need not undertake any review of portions of a Report to which no party has objected. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 153 (1985). De novo review is required, however, if the parties "serve and file specific written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2). In conducting a de novo review, "[t]he district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

         When reviewing a case under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court "must affirm the Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standards or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record." Longworth v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005). "Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but more than a scintilla; it refers to relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Minor v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 513 F.App'x 417, 432 (6th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). An ALJ may consider the entire body of evidence without directly addressing each piece in his decision. Kornecky v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 167 F.App'x 496, 508 (6th Cir. 2006). And an ALJ need not "make explicit credibility findings as to each bit of conflicting testimony, so long as his factual findings as a whole show that he implicitly resolved such conflicts." Id. (quotations omitted).


         I. Credibility Determination

         Johnson claims the ALJ's credibility determination was not supported by substantial evidence. Obj. 1-6, ECF No. 22. An ALJ may properly assess a claimant's credibility when considering her complaints. Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 531 (6th Cir. 1997). And because an ALJ's duty is to observe a witness's demeanor and credibility, any findings based on credibility are to be accorded great weight and deference. Id.

         First, Johnson disputes the magistrate judge's suggestion that "other evidence supports the ALJ's credibility assessment such as the ALJ being permitted to favor global assessment functioning (GAF) scores of 50 versus 20-35 after hospitalizations." Obj. 2, ECF No. 22. She argues that the vacillation of her scores does not support the conclusion that she could perform work on a sustained basis. Id. The Court disagrees. The ALJ considered all the record evidence and found that Johnson's statements "are not fully consistent with the medical signs and laboratory findings and other information provided by medical sources, including the longitudinal medical record, to a degree that supports a finding of disability." AR 170, ECF No. 14-2. The magistrate judge did not cite the GAF scores to support a finding that Johnson could work on a sustained basis. Rather, she explained why the ALJ was justified in favoring the GAF score of 50 over the lower scores. The ALJ favored the higher scores because they were "developed over many months and present a more longitudinal and accurate picture of the claimant's overall functional ability." AR 168, ECF No. 14-2. The ALJ's credibility determination was proper, and supported by sound reasoning and substantial evidence.

         Second, Johnson contests the magistrate judge's finding that the ALJ's credibility determination was supported by Johnson's improvement with each increase in medication. Obj. 4-5, ECF No. 22. That argument is also flawed. The record demonstrates that the medication improved Johnson's condition, and the ALJ rightly found that the evidence discredited Johnson's allegations of disability. See AR 479, 484, 530, 619, ECF No. 14-7.

         Third, Johnson argues that Johnson's daily activities did not support the ALJ's adverse credibility finding. The record belies this contention as well: Johnson demonstrated a capacity to care for herself, "live independently, " and "handle her own affairs." See AR 500, 507, 515, ECF No. 14-7. As a result, the Court will defer to the ...

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