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Hammett v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 12, 2017

KEISHA L. HAMMETT, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER ACCEPTING THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S AUGUST 15, 2017 REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [15]

          Honorable Nancy G. Edmunds Judge

         I. Background

         Plaintiff filed this action seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision denying her application for disability insurance and supplemental security income. The Court referred the matter to the Magistrate Judge who now recommends upholding the Commissioner's decision. (Dkt. 15). On August 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed a series of objections to the Magistrate Judge's report. Having conducted a de novo review of the parts of the Magistrate Judge's report to which specific objections have been filed, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's objections and ACCEPTS AND ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation. It is further ordered that Plaintiff's corrected motion for summary judgment [12] is DENIED, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [11] is MOOT, Defendant's motion for summary judgment [14] is GRANTED, and the case is hereby DISMISSED with prejudice.

         II. Analysis

         A. Treating Psychiatrist's Opinion

         Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's analysis of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") evaluation of opinion evidence from Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Anjana Bhrany. The Magistrate Judge correctly noted that, although the ALJ did not reference Dr. Bhrany by name, the ALJ made multiple references to records from Genesee Health System ("GHS"), including the assignment of "little weight" to Dr. Bhrany's May 2014 Global Assessment Functioning ("GAF") assessment of Plaintiff.[1] The ALJ noted that GAF scores are opinion evidence needing supporting evidence to give them weight. (Tr. 27). See DeBoard v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 211 F.App'x 411, 415 (6th Cir. 2006) (noting that the Commissioner has indicated that GAF scores have no direct correlation to the severity requirements of the mental disorders listings, and that the Sixth Circuit has affirmed denials of disability benefits where applicants had GAF scores of 50 or lower).

         The ALJ concluded that Dr. Bhrany's May 2014 finding that Plaintiff's GAF score was 50 was entitled to "little weight" because it was not proportionate with Plaintiff's activities and social functioning and because it was inconsistent with the mental status examination performed that same day as well the subsequent examinations performed at GHS. (Tr. 28-31). These mental status examinations revealed that Plaintiff was regularly well-dressed and groomed; was oriented to time, place, and person; had coherent thoughts, intact memory, and normal intellectual functioning; had normal behavior and was cooperative; communicated well; and responded positively to treatment and medications, which helped to stabilize her mood. Id. The Court is thus satisfied that the ALJ properly considered the supportability and consistency of Dr. Bhrany's opinion in accordance with 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(3), (4), 416.927(c)(3), (4), and the ALJ's reasons for assigning Dr. Bhrany's opinion "little weight" are clear. See Francis v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 414 F.App'x 802, 804 (6th Cir. 2011) (noting that the regulations do not require an exhaustive factor-by-factor analysis of each of the six regulatory or "Wilson" factors listed in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(1)-(6), 416.927(c)(1)-(6)) (citing Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004)).

         B. Treating Social Worker's Opinion

         Plaintiff next objects to the Magistrate Judge's analysis of the ALJ's evaluation of opinion evidence from Plaintiff's treating social worker, Joseph Laird, M.S., L.L.P.C. On December 28, 2015, Mr. Laird completed an SSA Medical Source Statement. Mr. Laird opined that Plaintiff had moderate difficulties in most areas, including in her ability to interact appropriately with the public, supervisors, and co-workers. (Tr. 784-85). He further opined that Plaintiff had marked difficulties in understanding and remembering complex instructions, and marked difficulties in responding appropriately to usual work situations and to changes in a routine work setting. Id. The ALJ gave "partial weight" to Mr. Laird's opinion to the extent that it was consistent with the conclusion that Plaintiff suffers moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning as well as concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 33). The ALJ limited Plaintiff to "simple, routine tasks, in work that has only occasional changes in the work setting, and that involves only occasional interaction with the general public." (Tr. 25). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work, which included self-employment as a house cleaner. (Tr. 34-35, 59).

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ discounted Mr. Laird's opinion that Plaintiff has moderate difficulties in her ability to interact with supervisors and co-workers. However, Plaintiff's past relevant work as a self-employed house cleaner, which the ALJ and Vocational Expert ("VE") found that Plaintiff could perform, does not generally require more than superficial interaction with supervisors and any co-workers. Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ discounted Mr. Laird's opinion that Plaintiff has marked difficulties in her ability to respond appropriately to usual work situations and to changes in a routine work setting because such an individual "could not be expected to function appropriately in a job that has occasional changes in the work setting and no limitations on what constitutes 'usual work situations.'" Despite Plaintiff's assertion, the ALJ accommodated Plaintiff's difficulties by limiting her to simple, routine tasks with only occasional changes in the work setting. Plaintiff's past relevant work as a self-employed house cleaner, which the ALJ and VE found that Plaintiff could perform, generally involves simple and routine work situations with few workplace changes. Cf. Tansil v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 15-cv-11405, 2016 WL 4727478, at *2 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 12, 2016) (affirming Commissioner's decision where Residual Functional Capacity limited claimant to "simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a work environment free from fast paced production requirements involving simple, work related decisions with few if any workplace changes; and brief and superficial contact with coworkers, supervisors, and the general public;" and where representative work identified by the VE included maid/housekeeper).

         The Court is satisfied that the ALJ properly considered Mr. Laird's opinion as an "other source" under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.513(d), 416.513(d) and finds no prejudicial error in the ALJ's decision to afford "partial weight" to Mr. Laird's opinion as discussed above.[2] In any event, the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge that Plaintiff did not make a developed argument in her motion for summary judgment as to how the ALJ incorrectly evaluated Mr. Laird's opinion. See Roby v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 48 F.App'x 532, 536 (6th Cir. 2002) ("Issues that are adverted to in a perfunctory manner without some effort at developed argumentation are generally deemed waived.") (citing Gragg v. Ky. Cabinet for Workforce Dev., 289 F.3d 958, 963 (6th Cir. 2002)).

         C. Treating Nurse's Opinion

         Plaintiff also objects to the Magistrate Judge's analysis of the ALJ's evaluation of opinion evidence from Plaintiff's treating nurse, Jackie Duncan, N.P. On January 11, 2016, Ms. Duncan completed an SSA Medical Source Statement. Ms. Duncan opined that Plaintiff had marked difficulties in most areas, and moderate difficulties in two areas. (Tr. 788-89). The ALJ gave "little weight" to Ms. Duncan's opinion because it was inconsistent with the medical records of evidence and mental status examinations. The ALJ went on to cite specific medical records from July 2013 through September 2015 to highlight the inconsistencies. (Tr. 33-34). As discussed in detail by the ALJ and the Magistrate Judge, these records included recent examinations of Plaintiff by Ms. Duncan herself during which she regularly described Plaintiff as well-dressed and groomed (Tr. 384, 539, 621, 711); oriented to time, place, and person (Tr. 384, 539, 621, 711); having coherent and logical thoughts (Tr. 384, 539, 621, 711); exhibiting normal behavior and being cooperative (Tr. 384, 539, 621, 711); and responding positively to treatment and medications, which helped to stabilize her mood (Tr. 382, 542, 619).

         Plaintiff first claims that the aforementioned observations of Plaintiff during the mental status examinations do not "cancel out" a depressed mood, anxious affect, hallucinations, or suicidal or homicidal ideation. The Court agrees with the Commissioner that Plaintiff is rehashing an argument that she previously raised in her motion for summary judgment. "This Court is not obligated to address objections made in this form because the objections fail to identify the specific errors in the magistrate judge's proposed recommendations, and such objections undermine the purpose of the Federal Magistrate's Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636, which serves to reduce duplicative work and conserve judicial resources." Owens v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 1:12-47, 2013 WL 1304470, at *3 (W.D. Mich. Mar. 28, 2013) (citations omitted). The Court also agrees with the Magistrate Judge that Plaintiff ...


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