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Davenport v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 11, 2017

YOLANDA DAVENPORT, on behalf of J.E.D., Plaintiff,



         This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff Yolanda Davenport, on behalf of her minor son J.E.D., seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision finding that J.E.D. is not disabled. (Doc. 11). Defendant Commissioner of Social Security seeks to affirm the denial of plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under the Social Security Act. (Doc. 12). The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Anthony P. Patti, who issued a report and recommendation on August 11, 2017, recommending that plaintiff's motion be denied and defendant's motion be granted. (Doc. 15). Plaintiff filed objections on August 25, 2017. (Doc. 16). Plaintiff filed her objections again on August 31, 2017. (Doc. 17). Defendant replied on August 31, 2017. (Doc. 18).

         I. Procedural and Factual History

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI benefits on February 11, 2014, alleging that J.E.D. has been disabled since April 19, 2012. After this application was denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ALJ David F. Neumann held a hearing on May 14, 2015 and subsequently determined that J.E.D. was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. At Step One, the ALJ determined that J.E.D. has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 11, 2014. At Step Two, the ALJ identified severe impairment of speech/articulation disorder. At Step Three, the ALJ found that J.E.D.'s severe impairment does not meet, or medically or functionally equal, the severity of one of the listed impairments.

         The Appeals Counsel of the Social Security Administration denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision on April 6, 2016, “at which point the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.” Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004) (internal citations omitted). Plaintiff initiated this civil action for review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) on May 31, 2016. (Doc. 1).

         II. Legal Standard

         The standard of review to be employed by the Court when examining a report and recommendation is set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 636. This Court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). This Court “may accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate.” Id.

         A district court may affirm, modify, or reverse the Commissioner's decision, with or without remand. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court “must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.” Rabbers v. Comm'r Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). “Substantial evidence is defined as more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (internal citations omitted). In deciding whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the Court does “not try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence or decide questions of credibility.” Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal citations omitted).

         The claimant “has the ultimate burden to establish an entitlement to benefits by proving the existence of a disability.” Moon v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1175, 1181 (6th Cir. 1990). The Court must “take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from [the] weight” of the Commissioner's decision. TNS, Inc. v. NLRB, 296 F.3d 384, 395 (6th Cir. 2002) (internal citations omitted). Nevertheless, “if substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, this Court defers to that finding even if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion.” Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (internal citations omitted).

         III. Analysis

         Magistrate Judge Patti's report and recommendation concludes that the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence and that plaintiff has not shown reversible error. In response, plaintiff filed two objections. (Doc. 16 and 17).

         First, plaintiff argues that Magistrate Judge Patti erred by finding that it was proper for the ALJ to ignore the opinions of J.E.D.'s teachers. Plaintiff refers to teacher questionnaires submitted by Chris Wilinski and Ann Kay. Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ's reasoning is insufficient because he did not discuss the teachers' opinions in some of his findings under the six functional equivalent domains.

         The ALJ did not ignore Wilinski's opinion, but rather, evaluated it and chose to discount it. Teachers like Wilinski are educational personnel, which the pertinent SSR categorizes as non-medical sources. SSR 06-03P, 2006 WL 2329939, at *2 (S.S.A. Aug. 9, 2006). “An opinion from a ‘non-medical source'. . . may, under certain circumstances, properly be determined to outweigh the opinion from a medical source.” SSR 06-03P, *3. “For example, this could occur if the ‘non-medical' source has seen the individual more often and has greater knowledge of the individual's functioning over time and if the ‘non-medical source's' opinion has better supporting evidence and is more consistent with the evidence as a whole.” Id. These circumstances were not present here. Instead, the ALJ acknowledged that Wilinski was J.E.D.'s first grade teacher, but found that Wilinski's questionnaire had “little weight” ...

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