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Gross v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 28, 2017




         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Kristen Jo Gross, Jr., brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits. On March 19, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging that she has been disabled since February 13, 2013. (R. at 31.) Plaintiff's application was denied and she sought a de novo hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). ALJ Melody Paige held a hearing on October 30, 2014 and subsequently determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. at 31-86.) On December 19, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 1-4.) ALJ Paige's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff then timely commenced the instant action.


         In her motion for remand, Plaintiff asserts that ALJ Paige committed reversible error in three ways: 1) by violating the treating source rule, 20 C.F.R. §404.1527(c)(2) and S.S.R. 96-8p; 2); 2) by erring in her consideration of Plaintiff's credibility; and 3) by relying upon an incomplete hypothetical to the vocational expert (“VE”) at Step 5. (DE 17.) The Commissioner opposes the motion and has filed a motion for summary judgment, noting that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.

         The parties have consented to my authority. (DE 13.) A hearing was held on March 17, 2017, at which Plaintiff's counsel (Edward A. Wicklund) and Defendant's counsel (AUSA John J. Engel) appeared by telephone. The Court will consider the parties' arguments, both on the papers and at the hearing, in turn.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Treating Physician Rule

         Plaintiff's treating physician, Mark Brennan, M.D., completed two residual functional capacity (“RFC”) questionnaires: the first on October 13, 2013 and the second on August 8, 2014. (R. at 325-26 and 423-25.) In both, he concluded that Plaintiff's impairments precluded sedentary work. The ALJ discounted Dr. Brennan's conclusion, noting that its work preclusive nature was not well supported by treatment notes or objective studies, and seemed to rely heavily on Plaintiff's subjective reports. (R. at 36.) The ALJ formulated an RFC that limited Plaintiff to sedentary work “except that she can occasionally climb ramps, stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; but can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds” and should avoid “concentrated exposure to vibrations and hazards, ” with only occasional reaching overhead. (R. at 34.) The parties concede that Dr. Brennan's opinions constitute the only opinion evidence in the record.

         The ALJ must consider all medical opinions that he or she receives in evaluating a claimant's case. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(b). The regulations define medical opinions as “statements from physicians . . . that reflect judgments about the nature and severity of your impairment(s), including your symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis, what you can still do despite impairment(s), and your physical or mental restrictions.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(a)(2). “Administrative law judges are not bound by any findings made by State agency medical or psychological consultants, or other program physicians or psychologists.” 20 CFR § 404.1527(e)(2)(i). The ALJ must, however, “consider findings and other opinions” of State Agency medical or psychological consultants.

         The ALJ generally gives deference to the opinions of a treating source “since these are likely to be the medical professionals most able to provide a detailed, longitudinal picture of [a patient's] medical impairment(s) and may bring a unique perspective to the medical evidence that cannot be obtained from the objective medical findings alone . . . .” 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2); Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 408 (6th Cir. 2009). To qualify as a treating source, the physician must have an “ongoing treatment relationship” with the claimant. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1502.

         If the ALJ does not afford controlling weight to a treating physician's opinion, the ALJ must meet certain procedural requirements.[1] Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004). Specifically, if an ALJ does not give a treating source's opinion controlling weight:

[A]n ALJ must apply certain factors-namely, the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination, the nature and extent of the treatment relationship, supportability of the opinion, consistency of the opinion with the record as a whole, and the specialization of the treating source-in determining what weight to give the opinion.

         Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. ...

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