United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
ORDER ACCEPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND
PAGE HOOD United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A.
Stafford's Report and Recommendation. [Doc. No.
17] Timely objections and a response to the
objections were filed in this matter. [Doc. Nos. 18
review of the Commissioner's decision is limited in scope
to determining whether the Commissioner employed the proper
legal criteria in reaching his conclusion. Garner v.
Heckler, 745 F.2d 383 (6th Cir. 1984). The credibility
findings of an administrative law judge ("ALJ")
must not be discarded lightly and should be accorded great
deference. Hardaway v. Secretary of Health and Human
Services, 823 F.2d 922, 928 (6th Cir. 1987). A district
court's review of an ALJ's decision is not a de
novo review. The district court may not resolve
conflicts in the evidence nor decide questions of
credibility. Garner, 745 F.2d at 397. The decision
of the Commissioner must be upheld if it is supported by
substantial evidence, even if the record might support a
contrary decision or if the district court arrives at a
different conclusion. Smith v. Secretary of HHS, 893
F.2d 106, 108 (6th Cir. 1984); Mullen v. Bowen, 800
F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986).
Court has had an opportunity to review this matter and finds
that the Magistrate Judge reached the correct conclusions for
the proper reasons. Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate
Judge's finding that Plaintiff did not have a severe
mental impairment. Plaintiff contends that limited
consideration of his mental impairments requires remand of
the case because his mental health disorders do constitute a
severe impairment requiring a finding of disability. As
Plaintiff argues, the ALJ did not consider any of Plaintiff s
mental impairments severe, and the ALJ only specified
Plaintiffs cognitive disorder and depression at step two.
When rendering the decision denying benefits, however, the
ALJ did not consider only Plaintiffs cognitive disorder and
depression. The ALJ noted Plaintiffs diagnoses of general
anxiety and personality disorders when concluding that
Plaintiffs mental impairments are non-severe because the
"mental impairments do not have more than a minimal
effect on his ability to engage in basic work
activities." [Dkt. No. 11, PgID 57-58]
argues that the GAF scores of 50 that were consistently
assigned reflect that the ALJ "minimized the severity of
[Plaintiffs] symptoms and failed to provide good reasons for
assigning limited weight to a treating doctor's
opinion." Citing Keeton v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec, 583 F.App'x 515, 529-30 n.6 (6th Cir. 2014).
The well-established law does not require adoption of
Plaintiff s argument regarding the GAF scores assigned to
Plaintiff. First, as the Sixth Circuit has consistently
recognized, there is no authority requiring an "ALJ to
put stock in a GAF score in the first place."
Kornecky v. Comm V of Soc. Sec, 167
F.App'x 496, 511 (6th Cir. 2006). See also Miller v.
Comm V of Soc. Sec, 811 F.3d 825, 835, -36 (6th
Cir. 2016) ("GAF scores are 'not raw medical
data' and "the Commissioner has declined to endorse
the [GAF] scores for use in Social Security benefits
programs") (citations and internal quotations omitted)).
Second, a GAF score of 50 "reflects the assessor's
opinion that the subject has serious symptoms or
serious impairment of social or occupational
functioning." Kornecky, 167 F.App'x at 511.
Accordingly, the GAF score may suggest one's symptoms or
Miller court indicated, the Court must consider the
GAF scores in light of the record and determine whether the
"ALJ's decision was .... supported by substantial
evidence." Id. at 836. The medical record
evidence in this case reveals that, although the GAF score
assigned to Plaintiff remained consistent, Plaintiffs mental
health did improve with treatment. As set forth in the Report
[Plaintiff] began receiving psychiatric care at Development
Centers, Inc., with Barbara M. Kilian, M.D., in November
2014. [ECF No. 11-8, 387-92]. He reported a severely
depressed mood, crying spells, low energy, low motivation,
irritability, and low self-esteem, but denied any suicidal or
homicidal ideas. [Id.], Dr. Kilian found that he had
good grooming, hygiene, a full and anxious affect, an intact
thought process, good concentration, and good judgment, and
was cooperative and depressed. [Id.]. She found Blay
to have a Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score of 50,
3 and recommended that Blay undergo individual therapy and
medical treatment. [Id.]. By January 2015, Blay
reported that his mood and anxiety had improved, but he was
still depressed, and Dr. Kilian increased his Lexapro and
added Wellbutrin. [Id., Tr. 436-37]. In March and
May 2015, Blay reported a depressed mood, low energy and
isolative behavior, and Dr. Kilian increased his Wellbutrin
in March. [Id., Tr. 426-29, 430-34]. She continued
to score Blay's GAF at 50. [Id.]. By June 2015,
Blay reported occasions of less intense depression and an
improved energy level, and Dr. Kilian found him to be more
stable, to have an improved mood and brighter affect, and a
GAF that remained at 50. [Id., Tr. 420-24]. In
August 2015, Dr. Kilian again reported Blay to be stable with
an improved mood, and to have a GAF of 50. [Id., Tr.
412-19]. This is substantial evidence in support of the
ALJ's decision that Blay's mental impairments
improved with treatment.
[Dkt.No. 17, PgID 771-72]
Court finds that the ALJ reasonably could have
allocated different weight to the opinions of the medical
sources, but the Court is not persuaded that the ALJ: (a)
failed to give appropriate weight to the opinions of Dr.
Kilian and Terrance C. Mills, Ph.D.; or (b) was unjustified
in assigning the weight he did to the opinion of Dyan
Hampton-Aytch, Ph.D. As the ALJ explained, the basis for
giving more weight to the opinion of Dr. Hampton-Aytch was
that: (a) Plaintiffs mental health generally had improved
with treatment (including psychotropic medications) over the
course of 2014-2015; and (b) Plaintiff reported in 2015 that
he was not feeling depressed or anxious and no longer
attended counseling. The Court finds such evidence to be
significant in making a determination of the severity of
Plaintiff s mental impairments.
indicates that evidence of improvement with treatment is
meaningless if the improvement does not reach a level where
the impairment ceases to be severe. The evidence Plaintiff
cites to support his statement is a March 2016 RFC statement
from Dr. Kilian he submitted for review. But, because that
RFC statement was submitted after the ALJ decision and the
Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision,
the Court cannot consider it. See, e.g., Elliott v.
Apfel, 28 F.App'x 420, 423 (6th Cir. 2002) (a court
"cannot consider evidence not presented to the ALJ"
if the Appeals Council does not hear the appeal).
reasons set forth above, the Court finds that the ALJ's
decision, including but not limited to the determinations
Plaintiff challenges in his objections, was supported by
substantial evidence and was not based on any legally
erroneous determination. Further, the Court accepts the
Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation as this
Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law.
IT IS ORDERED that the Report and
Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Anthony P. Patti
[Doc. No. 17, filed July 31, 2017] is
ACCEPTED and ADOPTED as
this Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law.
IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiffs Objections
[Doc. No. 18, filed August 14, 2017] are
IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiffs Motion for
Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 14, filed ...