United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
KATIVIA D. FIELDS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
ORDER ACCEPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND
REMANDING MATTER PURSUANT TO SENTENCE FOUR
Denise Page Hood, Judge
matter is before the Court on Magistrate Judge Stephanie
Dawkins Davis's Report and Recommendation. [Doc. No. 22]
Timely objections and a response to the objections were filed
in this matter. [Doc. Nos. 23 and 24] The Magistrate Judge
recommends that the Court deny Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment, grant Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment to the extent she seeks remand (but not to the
extent she seeks reversal and a direct award of benefits),
and remand this matter back to the Defendant pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain an expert
medical opinion regarding Plaintiff's physical
impairments and for further consideration of Plaintiff's
application in light of that expert medical opinion.
review of the Commissioner's decision is limited in scope
to determining whether the Commissioner employed the proper
legal criteria in reaching his conclusion. Garner v.
Heckler, 745 F.2d 383 (6th Cir. 1984). The credibility
findings of an administrative law judge (“ALJ”)
must not be discarded lightly and should be accorded great
deference. Hardaway v. Secretary of Health and Human
Services, 823 F.2d 922, 928 (6th Cir. 1987). A district
court's review of an ALJ's decision is not a de
novo review. The district court may not resolve
conflicts in the evidence nor decide questions of
credibility. Garner, 745 F.2d at 397. The decision
of the Commissioner must be upheld if it is supported by
substantial evidence, even if the record might support a
contrary decision or if the district court arrives at a
different conclusion. Smith v. Secretary of HHS, 893
F.2d 106, 108 (6th Cir. 1984); Mullen v. Bowen, 800
F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986).
Court has had an opportunity to review this matter and finds
that the Magistrate Judge reached the correct conclusions for
the proper reasons. Defendant objects to the Magistrate
Judge's: (a) conclusion that the ALJ's failure to
obtain a medical opinion regarding medical equivalence was
not harmless error; and (b) holding that the absence of a
medical opinion supporting the ALJ's RFC finding requires
respect to the first objection, Defendant argues that because
the “evidence does not demonstrate the possibility that
[Plaintiff] [can] meet the criteria of a listed impairment,
” Leveque v. Colvin, No. 14-12096, 2015 WL
4601156, at *6 (E.D. Mich. June 16, 2015) (R&R adopted
Sept. 23, 2015), the ALJ's error in failing to obtain a
medical opinion regarding medical equivalence was harmless.
Defendant concedes that the ALJ erred in failing to obtain
such a medical opinion, but contends that the evidence it
cites demonstrates that Plaintiff could not meet the criteria
of listing 1.04.
Court notes that Defendant has presented evidence that could
support a finding that Plaintiff has not satisfied the
criteria of listing 1.04. The Court also finds that the
evidence, specifically medical findings subsequent to
Plaintiff's November 29, 2012 surgery to address her
cervical spine issues, could support a finding that Plaintiff
can satisfy the criteria of listing 1.04. See, e.g.,
Doc. No. 22, PgID 983-85; Doc. No. 24, PgID 1003-06. And, as
“[n]either the ALJ nor this court possesses the
requisite medical expertise to determine if [Plaintiff's]
impairments . . . in combination equal one of the
Commissioner's listings, ” Sheeks v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 2015 WL 753205, at *7 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 23,
2015) (citations and internal quotations omitted), the Court
concludes that this matter must be remanded so that the ALJ
can obtain the opinion of a qualified medical advisor on the
equivalence of Plaintiff's physical impairments. The
Court denies Defendant's first objection.
second objection, Defendant contends that the Magistrate
Judge misapplied the law in the Sixth Circuit and in this
district when she stated:
Although ultimately a finding of no disability may be
appropriate in this case, substantial evidence does not exist
in the record to support the current RFC determination
because there is no RFC determination by a consulting
physician or expert medical advisor.
Doc. No. 23, PgID 996 (citing Doc. No. 22, PgID 988).
Defendant argues that the law is well established that an ALJ
does not err “simply because there is no medical
opinion that corresponds to her RFC finding.” Citing
Rudd v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No.
15-11553, 2016 WL 1729553, at *12 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 22, 2016)
(rejecting argument that ALJ must base RFC finding on a
medical opinion because “the Commissioner has final
responsibility for deciding an individual's RFC”);
Sparrow v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 15-11397,
2016 WL 1658305, at *7 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 30, 2016), R & R
adopted, 2016 WL 1640416 (E.D. Mich. Apr. 26, 2016)
(“the Commissioner is not obligated to base th[e] RFC
upon a physician's RFC, or upon any particular piece of
evidence”). Defendant argues that it was error for the
Magistrate Judge to “basically hold that the ALJ here
exceeded her expertise simply because there was no medical
opinion directly supporting her RFC assessment.” Doc.
No. 23, PgID 997.
Court finds that Defendant has accurately stated the law of
the cases cited, but as Plaintiff notes, the facts of this
case are different than the facts of those cases. Unlike the
cases cited by Defendant, where the ALJ was able to rely or
base the RFC finding on some medical opinion, it is
undisputed that there was an absence of any medical opinion
upon which the ALJ in this case based her RFC finding.
See, e.g., SSR 96-5p (RFC must be “based upon
consideration of all relevant evidence in the case record,
including medical evidence and relevant nonmedical
evidence”); Isaacs v. Astrue, 2009 WL 3672060,
at *10 (S.D. Ohio Nov. 4, 2009) (quoting Deskin v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 605 F.Supp.2d 908, 912 (N.D.
Ohio 2008) (citing Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35
(1st Cir. 1999)) (“The residual functional capacity
opinions of treating physicians, consultative physicians, and
medical experts who testify at hearings are crucial to
determine a claimant's RFC because ‘[i]n making the
residual functional capacity finding, the ALJ may not
interpret raw medical data in functional terms.'”).
Court finds that these cases do not conflict with the
established law that “the Commissioner has the final
responsibility for deciding an individual's RFC.”
Rudd, 531 F.App'x at 727-28. The fact that the
Commissioner (ALJ) has to make the final decision regarding
an applicant's RFC does not obviate the
Commissioner's obligation to base the RFC on some medical
evidence. SSR 96-5p; 20 C.F.R. 404.1527; Simpson v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 344 F.App'x 181, 194 (6 th
Cir. 2009) (quoting Rohan v. Chater, 98 F.3d 966,
970 (7th Cir. 1996)) (“ALJs must not succumb to the
temptation to play doctor and make their own independent
contrary to Defendant's suggestion, the Magistrate Judge
did not hold that the ALJ erred because “there is no
medical opinion that corresponds to her RFC finding” or
“because there was no medical opinion directly
supporting her RFC assessment.” Rather, the Magistrate
Judge concluded that the ALJ's RFC determination
“was apparently formulated based on her own independent
medical findings.” Doc. No. 22, PgID 988. The Court
agrees with the Magistrate Judge's determination and
notes that Defendant did not contest that determination in
its objection. Accordingly, the Court denies Defendant's
reasons set forth above, the Court finds that the ALJ's
decision, including but not limited to the determinations
Defendant challenges in its objections, was supported by
substantial evidence and was not based on any legally
erroneous determination. Further, the Court accepts the
Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation as this
Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law.
IT IS ORDERED that the Report and Recommendation of
Magistrate Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis [Doc. No. 22, filed
February 17, 2017] is ACCEPTED and ADOPTED as ...