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Mason v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 16, 2017

ARCHARD LEE MASON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

         OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS TO MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [19]; ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [16]; DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [12]; GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [15] AND AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          Nancy G. Edmunds United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's objections to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. (Docket no. 16.) 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 the reasons set forth therein and below, the Court denies Plaintiff's objections, adopts the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, denies Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and grants Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's motion for summary judgment, affirming the Commissioner's decision in accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Plaintiff protectively filed for disability benefits ("DIB") on January 9, 2013. (Transcript 144-47.) Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of April 21, 2007. (Tr. 144-47.) His claims were denied and he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which was held on June 2, 2014. (Tr. 35.) In a decision dated July 15, 2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security act at any time from April 21, 2007, through December 31, 2013, the date last insured. (Tr. 30-31.)

         On October 28, 2015, the appeals council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-5.) Plaintiff filed with this Court on December 10, 2015. (Dkt. 1.) Plaintiff filed duplicate motions for summary judgment on May 4, 2016. (Dkt. 11, 12.) Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on July 6, 2016. (Tr. 15.) The magistrate judge entered a report and recommendation on January 31, 2017, recommending denying Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and granting Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. no. 16.) Plaintiff filed objections to the report and recommendation on February 14, 2017, and Defendant filed its response to the objections on February 28, 2017. (Dkt. nos. 19, 20.)

         The Court has reviewed the pleadings, including the ALJ's decision, the record transcript, the magistrate judge's report and recommendation and the objections and response. The ALJ's findings and the pertinent portions of the administrative record are accurately and adequately set forth in the magistrate judge's report and recommendation as necessary to the analysis, and the Court adopts them here. (Report and Recommendation, dkt. no. 16.) The Court agrees with the magistrate judge.

         I. Standard of Review

         Where a party has properly objected to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the "district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to. The 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).

         II. Analysis

         Plaintiff first objects that the magistrate judge erred in finding that the ALJ properly considered the Department of Veterans Affairs' (“VA”) determination that Plaintiff has a 100% disability rating. He objects that neither the ALJ nor the magistrate judge provided a “proper explanation for the ALJ's decision to reject the findings of the VA.” As Defendant points out, this issue was raised before the magistrate judge. Having reviewed the record, the Court finds that the magistrate judge properly addressed this issue; both the magistrate judge and the ALJ considered the VA records and the VA's determination, yet pointed out that the standards controlling disability determinations by the VA are not the same as under the Social Security Regulations. As the magistrate judge pointed out, the ALJ properly considered the VA records and the disability rating, referenced both in his decision, yet is not bound by the VA's determination. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1504 (“A decision by any nongovernmental agency or any other governmental agency about whether you are disabled or blind is based on its rules . . . . [A] determination made by another agency that you are disabled or blind is not binding on us.”); Soc. Sec. Ruling (SSR) 06-03p, 2006 WL 2329939.

         Plaintiff also argues that the magistrate judge's reliance on Ritchie v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 540 F. App'x 508 (6th Cir. 2013), is inapposite because the Ritchie court noted that the VA disability rating at issue was made approximately 25 years prior, whereas Plaintiff's VA disability documentation was dated only one year prior to the ALJ's decision. This was but one factor mentioned by the Sixth Circuit in Ritchie. The Sixth Circuit noted that, not unlike the case at bar,

The [ALJ's] decision analyzed in detail plaintiff's current medical and psychological condition, the opinions of plaintiff's current treating physicians, his work history and his daily living habits. The 1987 disability rating by the Veterans Administration is only one factor to be considered in making a social security disability finding. As such, and given the long time span since the rating was rendered, the administrative law judge was not required to go into detail about a medical finding from 1987 in her decision.

Id. at 510-11. The court also noted that the ALJ “clearly stated a proper understanding of the law when she stated she was not bound by the Veterans Administration finding.” Id. at 510. The magistrate judge correctly explained that the ALJ properly considered the VA disability rating.

         Next, Plaintiff objects that the magistrate judge erred in finding that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff cites medical evidence and testimony from the record, to conclude that the ALJ “misconstrued” the evidence. If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it must be affirmed, even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently, Kinsella v. Schweiker, 708 F.2d 1058, 1059 (6th Cir. 1983), and even if substantial evidence also supports another conclusion. See Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999). “The substantial evidence standard presupposes that there is a ‘zone of choice' ...


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