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Harrier v. Colvin

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

July 10, 2017



          STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III United States District Judge.

         Bruce Harrier claims to have become disabled on November 11, 2011 and he filed an application for disability insurance benefits on April 15, 2013. When his application was denied, he sought and received an administrative hearing. The ALJ, in a written opinion, found he was not disabled. After the Appeals Council denied review, Harrier filed for judicial review by the Court. The case was referred to a magistrate judge and the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. See ECF 14, 17.

         The magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation ("Report") suggesting that the Court grant the Commissioner's motion and deny Harrier's motion. ECF 20. Harrier filed a timely objection to the Report, and the Commissioner filed a reply. ECF 21, 22. After examining the record and considering Harrier's objections de novo, the Court concludes that his arguments lack merit. Accordingly, the Court will adopt the Report, deny Harrier's motion for summary judgment, and grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment.


         Civil Rule 72(b) governs the review of a magistrate judge's report. The Court need not review portions of a Report to which no party has objected. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985). De novo review is required, however, if the parties "serve and file specific written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2) and (3). In conducting a de novo review, "[t]he district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

         When 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." Longworth v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005) (quotation marks omitted). Substantial evidence consists of "more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance" such that a "reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (quotation marks omitted). An ALJ may consider the entire body of evidence without directly addressing each piece in the decision. Kornecky v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 167 F.App'x 496, 508 (6th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). "Nor must an ALJ make explicit credibility findings as to each bit of conflicting testimony, so long as his factual findings as a whole show that he implicitly resolved such conflicts." Id. (quotation marks omitted).


         Harrier raises two objections to the Report. In his first objection, he argues that the ALJ violated a Social Security Ruling concerning disability determinations by other government agencies. Because the magistrate judge found otherwise, Harrier objects. In his second objection, he argues that the magistrate judge made "no effort" to address his arguments for remand. The Court takes each objection in turn.

         I. Objection One - The VA's Disability Determination

         Harrier's first objection centers around SSR-06-03p: a Social Security ruling that clarifies how the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers decisions made by other governmental agencies on the issue of disability. SSR 06-03p explains that other agencies' determinations of disability do not bind the SSA because the other agencies apply different rules. Still, "evidence of a disability decision by another governmental or nongovernmental agency cannot be ignored and must be considered." SSR-06-03p, 2006 WL 2263437 (August 9, 2006). Harrier argues that the ALJ did not adequately consider an earlier finding of disability by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

         Harrier is a veteran. He served in the Air Force for thirteen years prior to his discharge in 1996. ECF 11-2, PgID 73. In 2012, the VA determined that Harrier was "permanently and totally disabled." ECF 11-7, PgID 459. Harrier introduced this determination as evidence at his hearing before the ALJ, along with other records and findings by the VA. Harrier claims that there was "no detail whatsoever in the ALJ's analysis of the VA decision" and that the ALJ made "a simple conclusory statement that she took into consideration [his] medical history, allegations, and objective medical evidence" but failed to explain "why the VA's decision was discarded." ECF 21, PgID 575.

         Harrier's characterization of the ALJ's decision is inaccurate. The ALJ's decision described the VA records in detail. ECF 11-2, PgID 56-59. The ALJ pointed out inconsistencies between the objective findings within the medical records and Harrier's subjective allegations. See, e.g., ECF 11-2, PgID 56 (discussing his eyesight), 57 (recognizing his ability to work), 58 (discussing his hearing, reported pain, and demonstrated ability to function despite his bipolar condition). In short, the ALJ reviewed and discussed the same medical records that the VA used to make its disability determination; she simply arrived at a different conclusion than the VA, in part because the criteria for the SSA and the VA are different. Compare 38 U.S.C. § 5107(b) (requiring the Secretary of the VA to give claimants "the benefit of the doubt") with Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003) (recognizing that a Social Security claimant "bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations").

         The ALJ's thorough discussion of the VA records demonstrates that she considered the disability decision of another government entity. The magistrate judge properly concluded that the ALJ satisfied SSR 06-03p. Harrier's first objection is overruled.

         II. Objection Two - Failure ...

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