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Bartee v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 30, 2017

EDITH BARTEE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

         OPINION AND ORDER SUSTAINING IN PART AND OVERRULING IN PART DEFENDANT'S OBJECTIONS [#20], ACCEPTING IN PART REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [#19], GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [#16], GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT[#15]

          GERSHWIN A. DRAIN United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the court on the parties' Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff Edith Bartee's claim for judicial review of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits. The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis, who issued a Report and Recommendation on January 31, 2017, recommending that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted in part and denied in part, Defendant Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted in part and denied in part, and that the findings of the Commissioner be reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. The Commissioner filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on February 7, 2017. Plaintiff filed a Response to the Commissioner's Objections on February 21, 2017. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will accept in part the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and will remand this matter for further proceedings.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The 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.

         A 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).

         Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits on October 29, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of September 26, 2011. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) determined that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease with cervical and mild lumbar radiculopathy; left sided carpal tunnel syndrome; early rheumatoid arthritis; major depressive disorder; bipolar disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; and posttraumatic stress disorder. The ALJ found that none of Plaintiff's impairments, either alone, or in combination, met or medically equaled the severity of the listed impairments.

         The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform:

Less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). Specifically, the claimant: can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; can stand and/or walk up to six hours and sit six hours in an eight-hour workday; can occasionally balance, kneel, stoop, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs; may not climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds; should avoid unprotected heights; can occasionally lift overhead and frequently handle and finger with bilateral upper extremities; should be limited to no turning of the head to the extreme ranges of motion, but activities requiring such movement can be accommodated by turning the torso; is limited to understanding, remembering and carrying out simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, but the pace of productivity should not [be] dictated by an external source over which the claimant has no control, such as an assembly line or conveyor belt; may make judgments on simple work, and respond appropriately to usual work situations and changes in routine work setting that is repetitive from day to day with few expected changes; and may have occasional interactions with the public, co-workers, and supervisors.

PgID 60. The ALJ also found that while Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work, her age, education, work experience and RFC capacity allowed her to work in jobs in significant numbers in the national economy.

         A. Objection #1

         The Commissioner's first objection concerns the Magistrate Judge's determination that the ALJ could not rely on the opinion of State Agency Reviewing Physician Dr. Ramirez-Jacobs. Specifically, the Magistrate Judge concluded that she was troubled by the ALJ's reliance on the state agency reviewing physician, Dr. Sonia Ramirez-Jacob's, RFC conclusion because the ALJ found that Dr. Ramirez-Jacobs was a “single decision maker; as such, [her assessment] is not afforded any weight.” PgID 65.

         Here, the ALJ incorrectly characterized Dr. Ramirez-Jacobs as a single decision-maker. The single decision-maker model “is an experimental program offered by the Social Security Administration, ” designed to streamline the review of claims. White v. Comm'r Soc. Sec., No. 12-cv-12833, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114584, *8 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 14, 2013). Under this model, a single decision-maker assumes primary responsibility for processing ...


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