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Page v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 6, 2017

THERESA PAGE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Mona K. Majzoub Magistrate Judge.

          OPINION AND ORDER ADOPTING MAGISTRATE JUDGE’S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION, DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AFFIRMING THE FINDINGS OF THE COMMISSIONER, AND DISMISSING COMPLAINT.

          DAVID M. LAWSON United States District Judge.

         The main issue presented by the plaintiff’s complaint and motion for summary judgment in this Social Security disability appeal is whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner’s determination that the plaintiff enjoyed medical improvement of her impairments after a closed period of disability. The plaintiff filed the present action on May 31, 2016 seeking review of the Commissioner’s partially favorable decision on her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II fo the Social Security Act. The case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Mona K. Majzoub under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and E.D. Mich. LR 72.1(b)(3).

         Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment to reverse the decision of the Commissioner and remand the case for an open award of benefits. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment requesting affirmance of the decision of the Commissioner. Magistrate Judge Majzoub filed a report on May 23, 2017 recommending that the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment be denied, the defendant’s motion for summary judgment be granted, and the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. The plaintiff filed timely objections to the recommendation, and the defendant filed a response to the plaintiff’s objections. This matter is now before the Court.

         The filing of timely objections to a report and recommendation requires the court to “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667 (1980); United States v. Walters, 638 F.2d 947 (6th Cir. 1981). This de novo review requires the court to re-examine all of the relevant evidence previously reviewed by the magistrate judge in order to determine whether the recommendation should be accepted, rejected, or modified in whole or in part. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         But this statute does not mandate a wholesale review of the motion; it only requires the Court to address those issues still in contention, as evidenced by the specific objections to the report. “The filing of objections provides the district court with the opportunity to consider the specific contentions of the parties and to correct any errors immediately,” Walters, 638 F.2d at 950, enabling the court “to focus attention on those issues - factual and legal - that are at the heart of the parties’ dispute,” Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 147 (1985). See also McClanahan v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 837 (6th Cir. 2006) (emphasizing that “‘[o]nly those specific objections to the magistrate’s report made to the district court will be preserved for appellate review; making some objections but failing to raise others will not preserve all the objections a party may have’”) (quoting Smith v. Detroit Fed’n of Teachers Local 231, 829 F.2d 1370, 1373 (6th Cir. 1987)).

         The Court has reviewed the file, the report and recommendation, the plaintiff’s objections, and the defendant’s response, and has made a de novo review of the administrative record in light of the parties’ submissions.

         The plaintiff, who is now fifty years old, filed her protective application for disability insurance benefits on May 22, 2013, when she was forty-six. The plaintiff graduated high school and has a certificate to be a nursing assistant, and previously worked as a nurse aid. In her application for disability insurance benefits, the plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of February 1, 2013. The plaintiff has been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, a migraine headache disorder, and an affective disorder (depression/anxiety).

         The plaintiff’s application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits was initially denied on September 12, 2013. The plaintiff timely filed a request for an administrative hearing, and on December 18, 2014, the plaintiff appeared before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Regina Sobrino. On May 12, 2015, ALJ Sobrino issued a written decision in which she found that the plaintiff was disabled from February 1, 2013 through June 24, 2014 and granted the plaintiff disability benefits for that period of time, but not thereafter. On April 18, 2016, the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s decision finding that she was not eligible for benefits after June 24, 2014. The plaintiff filed her complaint seeking judicial review on May 31, 2016.

         ALJ Sobrino reached her conclusion by applying the five-step sequential analysis prescribed by the Secretary in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, followed by the multi-step process set out in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594, to determine if her disability continued through the date of the ALJ’s decision. She found that the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of February 1, 2013 (step one); the plaintiff suffered degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, a migraine headache disorder, and an affective disorder (depression/anxiety), impairments which were “severe” within the meaning of the Social Security Act (step two); and none of those impairments alone or in combination met or equaled a listing in the regulations (step three).

         Before applying the next step, the ALJ determined that the plaintiff retained the capacity to perform a limited range of sedentary work. It appears that the ALJ noted that the plaintiff’s neck and shoulder pain was treated with steroid injections. She had a cervical fusion in July 2013, and underwent an arthroscopic repair of her left rotator cuff in May 2013. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that the plaintiff was restricted to performing work that allowed the use of both hands for any lifting, carrying, pushing, or pulling; the opportunity to alternate from sitting to standing, and from standing to sitting, for up to five minutes approximately every 30 minutes; did not require climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; did not require crawling; called only for occasional climbing of stairs, stooping, kneeling, and crouching; did not call for overhead reaching, and no more than frequent reaching in other directions; did not involve exposure to hazards or vibration; and demanded only simple, routine, repetitive work not done at production rate pace (e.g., no assembly-line work), with minimal changes in the work setting. The ALJ also found that the plaintiff suffered from degenerative disc disease in the low back and was treated with Lidoderm patches in June 2013, and with steroid injections multiple times throughout the spring of 2013. She had nerve blocks, trigger point injections, and epidural injections in October 2013, and May and June 2014. In determining residual functional capacity (RFC), therefore, the ALJ concluded also that the plaintiff “would have been expected to miss more than one workday per month due to her impairments and treatment” from February 1, 2013 through June 24, 2014. Tr. 20.

         Applying the fourth step, the ALJ found that the plaintiff could not perform her past work as a nurse assistant, which required heavy exertion.

         In applying the fifth step, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), who said that the plaintiff could not engage in her previous work as a nurse assistant, and there were no jobs in the national economy that the plaintiff could perform if she was expected to miss more than one day of work per month. The ALJ found the plaintiff to be disabled from February 1, 2013 through June 24, 2014.

         The ALJ also found that the plaintiff enjoyed medical improvement after June 24, 2014, and determined that her RFC thereafter allowed her to perform the same limited range of sedentary work, but she removed the restriction she would be expected to miss more than one day of work per month. With that restriction removed, the VE testified that an individual with the plaintiff’s residual functional capacity would be able to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as an information clerk, with 160,000 jobs nationally; a general office clerk, with 150,000 jobs nationally; and an order checker, with 180,000 jobs nationally. Because there were ...


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