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Gradascevic v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 5, 2017




         In this action, Plaintiff Indira Gradascevic challenges the denial of her applications for supplemental security income (“SSI”) and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). After the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, the assigned Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which he recommended that the Court (1) grant summary judgment in favor of the Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security, and (2) deny Gradascevic's motion for summary judgment (the “R&R”). (See ECF #20.) Gradascevic filed a timely objection to the R&R (the “Objection”). (See ECF #21.) The Court has conducted a de novo review of the portions of the R&R to which Gradascevic has objected. For the reasons stated below, the Court OVERRULES the Objection, ADOPTS the recommended disposition of the R&R, GRANTS the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment, and DENIES Gradascevic's motion for summary judgment.



         On April 1, 2013, and April 18, 2013, Gradascevic filed applications for SSI and DIB (the “Applications”). (See Admin. R., ECF #8-5 at Pg. ID 199-200, 208-14.) In the Applications, Gradascevic alleged she became disabled on March 24, 2010. (See id.) Among other things, Gradascevic says that she suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome/Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (“Regional Pain Syndrome”) (specifically left hand and wrist pain radiating to her neck), anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and substantial side effects from her medications. The Social Security Administration (the “SSA”) denied the Applications because it found that Gradascevic was not disabled. (See Admin. R., ECF #8-4 at Pg. ID 131-34.)

         Gradascevic thereafter requested and received a de novo hearing before administrative law judge Timothy C. Scallen (the “ALJ”). The ALJ held that hearing on November 12, 2014. Gradascevic, her husband, and an impartial vocational expert all testified at the hearing.

         On May 13, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision affirming the SSA's denial of benefits. (See Admin. R., ECF #8-2 at Pg. ID 64-74.) In the ALJ's decision, he found that Gradascevic suffered from the following severe impairments: “depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and [Regional Pain Syndrome] (left upper extremity) with a history of recurrent ganglion cyst (left wrist).” (Id. at Pg. ID 66.) Despite these impairments, the ALJ nonetheless concluded that Gradascevic was not disabled and was “capable of performing [her] past relevant work as a housekeeper/cleaner.” (Id. at Pg. ID 72.)

         The ALJ based his opinion in part on a 2013 examination of Gradascevic by consultative examiner Dr. Ernesto Bedia. (See Id. at Pg. ID 70-71.) During that examination, Dr. Bedia did not observe any “atrophy or asymmetry in any [of Gradascevic's] extremit[ies], ” and “save for some neck and left shoulder range of motion limitations, [Gradascevic's] exam was otherwise normal.” (Id. at 70.) In addition, during that examination, Gradascevic denied having any fatigue, she had no “swelling or tenderness of her bilateral hands or fingers[, ] and her fine and gross movements were intact.” (Id. at 70-71.) The ALJ concluded that “Dr. Bedia's opinion [was] well supported by objective diagnostic testing, his well-trained observation, an impartial analysis of [Gradascevic's] present illness, and a well- reasoned conclusion.” (Id. at 71.) He therefore afforded “substantial weight” to that opinion. (Id.)


         On August 17, 2016, Gradascevic filed this action challenging the SSA's denial of benefits. (See Compl., ECF #1.) Gradascevic and the Commissioner then filed cross-motions for summary judgment. (See Gradascevic's Mot. Summ. J., ECF #14; Commissioner's Mot. Summ. J., ECF #19.) One of the arguments Gradascevic made in her motion was that the ALJ did not properly apply Social Security Ruling 03-2p (“SSR 03-2p”)[2] when he evaluated her claim that she suffered from Regional Pain Syndrome. (See Gradascevic's Mot. Summ. J., ECF #14 at Pg. ID 557-59.) She also argued that the ALJ assigned too much weight to Dr. Bedia's analysis. (See Id. at 559-60.)

         The Court referred the cross-motions to the assigned Magistrate Judge. On February 15, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued the R&R in which he recommended that the Court grant the Commissioner's motion and deny Gradascevic's motion. (See R&R, ECF #20) In arriving at his recommendation, the Magistrate Judge carefully analyzed the arguments that Gradascevic made in her motion for summary judgment, including her arguments that her Regional Pain Syndrome rendered her disabled and that the ALJ relied too heavily on Dr. Bedia's opinion. Ultimately, the Magistrate Judge was not persuaded by any of Gradascevic's arguments. (See id.)

         On February 28, 2017, Gradascevic filed the Objection. (See ECF #21.) The Objection, quoted in full below, objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that the ALJ properly analyzed Gradascevic's claim that she was disabled as a result of her Regional Pain Syndrome:

The Magistrate Judge erroneously concluded (p 20) that the ALJ's analysis is consistent with the requirements of SSR 03-2p for evaluation of RSD/ CRPS disability claims, citing only mild abnormalities on the Left Wrist Bone Scan and no evidence of Osteoporosis. However, Osteoporosis is not always present in RSD/ CRPS cases, and is not a required criteria for diagnosis of the condition. SSR 03-2p recognizes this, and further that the pain is disproportionate to underlying pathology. Thus the cited facts do not undercut the claim of disability due to RSD/ CRPS, which is otherwise supported by Claimant's pain complaints, and indications of autonomic instability such as color changes and temperature changes. The Magistrate further cites the manifestly normal Left Upper Extremity evaluation of SSA Consultant Dr. Bedia. However, SSR 03-2p further recognized that the clinical symptoms of RSD/ CRPS are transient, thus the difficulty in making a correct diagnosis, the importance of the longitudinal ...

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