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Brown v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 27, 2017

SADARI IMARI BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

         OPINION AND ORDER (1) OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS (DKT. 16), (2) ACCEPTING THE RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE (DKT. 15), (3) DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. 13), AND (4) GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. 14)

          MARK A. GOLDSMITH United States District Judge.

         In this social security case, Plaintiff Sadari Imari Brown appeals from the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security that she is not disabled and, therefore, not entitled to disability benefits. The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Patricia T. Morris for a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”). The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment (Dkts. 13, 14), and Magistrate Judge Morris issued an R&R recommending that the Court grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment and deny Brown's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 15). Brown filed objections to the R&R (Dkt. 16); the Commissioner subsequently filed a response (Dkt. 17).

         For the reasons that follow, the Court overrules Brown's objections and accepts the recommendation contained in the magistrate judge's R&R. The Commissioner's motion is granted and Brown's motion is denied. The final decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Court reviews de novo those portions of the R&R to which a specific objection has been made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court's “review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's decision ‘is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.'” Ealy v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 594 F.3d 504, 512 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007)). “Substantial evidence is ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Lindsley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601, 604 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). In determining whether substantial evidence exists, the Court may “look to any evidence in the record, regardless of whether it has been cited by the [Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)].” Heston v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 535 (6th Cir. 2001). “[T]he claimant bears the burden of producing sufficient evidence to show the existence of a disability.” Watters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 530 F. App'x 419, 425 (6th Cir. 2013).

         II. ANALYSIS

         Brown offers two objections: (i) the magistrate judge erred in finding that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence; and (ii) the magistrate judge erred in finding that Brown's mental residual functional capacity (“RFC”) was sufficient. See Obj. at 2, 3. The Court concludes that both objections lack merit.

         A. Objection One

         Brown begins her objection by citing to Bowen v. Commissioner of Social Security, 478 F.3d 742 (6th Cir. 2007) for the proposition that a decision supported by substantial evidence will not be upheld when the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) regulations were not followed by the ALJ. Obj. at 2. A claimant is entitled to benefits under the Social Security Act if she can demonstrate her “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Corresponding regulations set forth a five-step process to determine if the claimant is actually disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. This objection concerns the assessment of Brown's RFC, an assessment that occurs between the third and fourth steps. A claimant's RFC is used to determine whether the claimant is capable of past relevant work, and if not, whether she is capable of making an adjustment to other work. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv)-(v).

         In Bowen, the decision of the ALJ was overturned because the ALJ failed to address the opinion of the claimant's treating source, in violation of 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2). Bowen, 478 F.3d at 747. Unlike in Bowen, Brown fails to identify which regulation the ALJ failed to adhere to. In her objection, Brown simply summarizes the court's holding in Bowen and argues that she is entitled to reversal on that basis. Obj. at 2. It is not the job of the Court to make an argument on the claimant's behalf when the claimant fails to provide her own factual support or legal analysis. See McPherson v. Kelsey, 125 F.3d 989, 995-996 (6th Cir. 1997) (“[I]ssues adverted to in a perfunctory manner, unaccompanied by some effort at developed argumentation, are deemed waived. It is not sufficient for a party to mention a possible argument in the most skeletal way, leaving the court to . . . put flesh on its bones.”); Deguise v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 12-10590, 2013 WL 1189967, at *7 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 19, 2013) (“[P]laintiff cannot simply make the claim that the ALJ erred . . . while leaving it to the Court to scour the record to support this claim.”), report and recommendation adopted by 2013 WL 1187291 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 22, 2013); Crocker v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 1:08-CV-1091, 2010 WL 882831, at *6 (W.D. Mich. Mar. 9, 2010) (“This court need not make the lawyer's case by scouring the party's various submissions to piece together appropriate arguments.”). As a result, the argument that the ALJ's decision should be overturned for failure to follow the regulations is waived.

         Brown next argues that she is entitled to reversal because the ALJ and magistrate judge misconstrued evidence and overlooked evidence that supported her claim of disability. Obj. at 2-3. Specifically, Brown argues that the ALJ and magistrate judge “misconstrued medical evidence and testimony that ultimately, resulted in an inadequate RFC to address Plaintiff's severe medical conditions.” Id. at 3. In Drummond v. Commissioner of Social Security, 126 F.3d 837, 842 (6th Cir. 1997), the Sixth Circuit held that “[a]bsent evidence of an improvement in a claimant's condition, a subsequent ALJ is bound by the findings of a previous ALJ.” This rule was subsequently adopted by the SSA. See SSAR 98-4(6), 1998 WL 283902, at *3 (“SSA may not make a different finding in adjudicating a subsequent disability claim with an unadjudicated period arising under the same title of the Act as the prior claim unless new and additional evidence or changed circumstances provide a basis for a different finding of the claimant's residual functional capacity.”).

         Here, Brown previously filed an application for disability benefits on January 27, 2010. A.R. at 16. After the application was denied, Brown appealed and proceeded to a hearing before an ALJ. Id. On August 2, 2011, the ALJ affirmed the denial of benefits. Id. In her ruling, the ALJ determined that Brown had the following RFC:

[T]o perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: unskilled, routine, non-production-oriented, self-paced work with occasional contact with the general public, co-workers, and supervisors; cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; should avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, noxious gases, and ...

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