United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Northern Division
Stephanie Dawkins Davis Magistrate Judge.
ORDER SUSTAINING DEFENDANT'S OBJECTIONS,
REJECTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND REFERRING THE
PARTIES' CROSS MOTIONS TO MAGISTRATE JUDGE DAVIS
L. LUDINGTON United States District Judge.
January 13, 2017, Plaintiff Jeffrey Lee Sarp filed a
complaint seeking judicial review of the Social Security
Commissioner's denial of disability benefits. ECF No. 1.
Sarp represented himself pro se during the proceedings before
the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). After the hearing, the
ALJ concluded that Sarp was not disabled. The Appeals Council
denied review, making the ALJ's denial of benefits the
Commissioner's final decision. The case was referred to
Magistrate Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis. After the parties
filed cross-motions for summary judgment, Judge Davis issued
a report recommending that Sarp's motion for summary
judgment be granted, the Commissioner's motion denied,
the Commissioner's finding be reversed, and the matter be
remanded for further proceedings under Sentence Four. ECF
Nos. 15, 17, 19. The Commissioner timely filed objections.
ECF No. 20.
to a de novo review of the record, the Commissioner's
objections will be sustained and the report and
recommendation will be rejected. In his motion for summary
judgment, Sarp advanced seven different allegations of error
in the ALJ's denial of benefits. ECF No. 15. Because
Judge Davis's report and recommendation addressed only
two of those seven arguments, the matter will be referred to
Judge Davis for further consideration.
party has specifically objected to Judge Davis's summary
of the background and administrative proceedings of the case.
For that reason, the summary is adopted in full. A brief
reiteration will be provided here. Sarp was 53 years old at
the alleged onset date of the disability, which is May 21,
2012. He believes he is disabled based on blindness in his
right eye and his psychological bipolar disorder. He also
asserts that he has a borderline personality disorder and
substance abuse disorder. Sarp represented himself during the
administrative proceedings. The ALJ found that Sarp had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date and that his medical conditions were severe
impairments. The ALJ found that Sarp had the residual
functional capacity to perform medium work, with certain
limitations, and concluded that Sarp could perform a
significant number of jobs despite his limitations.
written opinion, the ALJ summarized the medical evidence in
the record. The ALJ asserted that, at the benefits hearing,
Sarp testified that he has been disabled since May 21, 2012,
due to bipolar disorder, depression, poor vision, and back
problems. ALJ Decision at 14, ECF No. 11. Sarp was assessed
by Hollis Evans, a licensed social worker, with bipolar
disorder and personality disorder. Mr. Evans met with Sarp
several times. A Dr. Qadir also examined Sarp once, assessing
him with bipolar disorder and a history of alcohol and
marijuana abuse and finding that Sarp appeared
“manic” and “spoke very rapidly with racing
thought process.” Id. at 15. Mr. Evans twice
assessed Sarp with a Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF)
Score of 49. Id. at 16. Dr. Qadir assessed Sarp as
having a GAF score of 46. GAF scores are meant to reflect an
individual's impairment in social, occupational, or
school functioning. Id. A GAF score is not meant to
evaluate psychological limitations; rather, GAF scores
reflect psychological, social and occupational functioning.
Id. A GAF score from 41-50 reflects
“serious” impairments in such functioning. A
state agency consultant, Dr. Pinaire, reviewed Sarp's
medical record and concluded that Sarp was “capable of
performing simple one to two step tasks on a routine and
regular basis.” Id. The ALJ accorded Dr.
Pinaire's conclusion significant weight.
Davis's report and recommendation concluded that the ALJ
“gave no weight to and, in fact, virtually ignored the
opinion of Dr. Qadir.” Rep. & Rec. at 17, ECF No.
19. The report further criticized the ALJ for discounting
Sarp's GAF scores: “The record's consistency
with regard to plaintiff's assigned GAF scores suggests
the ALJ's dismissal of these scores as a matter of course
was an error.” Id. at 19-20. Finally, the
report finds that “substantial evidence does not
support assigning Dr. Pinaire's opinion significant
weight.” Id. at 22.
reviewing a case under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court
must affirm the Commissioner's conclusions “absent
a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the
correct legal standards or has made findings of fact
unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.”
Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525,
528 (6th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). Substantial evidence
is “such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Id.
the Social Security Act (“The Act”), a claimant
is entitled to disability benefits if he can demonstrate that
he is in fact disabled. Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d
727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). Disability is defined by the Act as
an “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); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505, 416.05. A
plaintiff carries the burden of establishing that he meets
this definition. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(5)(A); see
also Dragon v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 470 F. App'x
454, 459 (6th Cir. 2012).
federal regulations outline a five-step sequential process to
determine whether an individual qualifies as disabled:
First, the claimant must demonstrate that he has not engaged
in substantial gainful activity during the period of
disability. Second, the claimant must show that he suffers
from a severe medically determinable physical or mental
impairment. Third, if the claimant shows that his impairment
meets or medically equals one of the impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, he is deemed disabled.
Fourth, the ALJ determines whether, based on the
claimant's residual functional capacity, the claimant can
perform his past relevant work, in which case the claimant is
not disabled. Fifth, the ALJ determines whether, based on the
claimant's residual functional capacity, as well as his
age, education, and work experience, the claimant can make an
adjustment to other work, in which case the claimant is not
Courter v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 479 F. App'x
713, 719 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Wilson v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 548 (6th Cir. 2004)). Through
Step Four, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving the
existence and severity of limitations caused by his
impairments and the fact that he is precluded from performing
her past relevant work. At Step Five, the burden shifts to
the Commissioner to identify a significant number of jobs in
the economy that accommodate the claimant's residual
functional capacity (determined at step four) and vocational
profile. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 n. 5 (1987).
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72, a party may object to
and seek review of a Magistrate Judge's report and
recommendation. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2). Objections must be
stated with specificity. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S.
140, 151 (1985) (citation omitted). If objections are made,
“[t]he district judge must determine de novo any part
of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been
properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). De novo
review requires at least a review of the evidence before the
Magistrate Judge; the Court may not act solely on the basis
of a Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation.
See Hill v. Duriron Co., 656 F.2d 1208, 1215 (6th
Cir. 1981). After reviewing the evidence, the Court is free
to accept, reject, or modify the findings or recommendations
of the Magistrate Judge. See Lardie v. Birkett, 221
F.Supp.2d 806, 807 (E.D. Mich. 2002).
those objections that are specific are entitled to a de novo
review under the statute. Mira v. Marshall, 806 F.2d
636, 637 (6th Cir. 1986). “The parties have the duty to
pinpoint those portions of the magistrate's report that
the district court must specially consider.”
Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
A general objection, or one that merely restates the
arguments previously presented, does not sufficiently
identify alleged errors on the part of the magistrate judge.
See VanDiver v. Martin, 304 F.Supp.2d 934, 937
(E.D.Mich.2004). An “objection” that does nothing
more than disagree with a magistrate judge's
determination, “without explaining the source of the
error, ” is not considered a valid objection.
Howard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 932
F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991). Without specific objections,
“[t]he functions of the district court are ...