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Monroe v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 14, 2017

PENNY JEAN MONROE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

         ORDER ACCEPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION (DOC. 19), OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS (DOC. 20), GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. 15), DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. 14), AND DISMISSING PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS

          GEORGE CARAM STEEH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is presently before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff Penny Jean Monroe seeks judicial review of the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) finding that she is not disabled. Defendant Commissioner of Social Security seeks to affirm the denial of plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., and Supplemental Security Income Benefits (SSI) under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Patricia T. Morris, who issued a report and recommendation on April 13, 2017, recommending that plaintiff's motion be denied and defendant's motion be granted. (Doc. 19). Plaintiff filed objections on April 27, 2017. (Doc. 20). Defendant replied on May 1, 2017. (Doc. 21).

         I. Procedural and Factual History

         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI benefits on December 9, 2013, alleging that she has been disabled since September 19, 2009. After her applications were denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. ALJ Thomas L. Waters held a hearing on February 4, 2015 and determined that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Acts.

         The Social Security Administration Appeals Counsel denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision on June 14, 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 August 9, 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). The Court must examine the administrative record as a whole, and may consider any evidence in the record, regardless of whether it has been cited by the ALJ. See Walker v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servc., 884 F.2d 241, 245 (6th Cir. 1989). 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).

         III. Analysis

         Magistrate Judge Morris' report and recommendation concludes that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that plaintiff was not disabled. Plaintiff filed two objections. (Doc. 20).

         Preliminarily, the Court shall address defendant's waiver argument. Defendant asserts that plaintiff's objections simply restate arguments raised in her summary judgment brief, as opposed to challenging portions of the report and recommendation, and therefore, should be deemed waived. Although plaintiff's objections are similar to her summary judgment arguments, the Court will consider them.

         First, plaintiff argues that Magistrate Judge Morris erred by finding that the ALJ properly evaluated her impairments. Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to consider her obesity and its accompanying comorbidities.

         The ALJ considered plaintiff's obesity and related medical issues when assessing her residual functional capacity (RFC). Plaintiff failed to provide sufficient evidence to show that obesity limited her ability to work. Her medical record provided scant traces of obesity and no evidence that it caused work related limitations. She merely made vague references to difficulties with obesity in her testimony, which the ALJ determined were not credible. Plaintiff alleged related conditions including sleep apnea, GERD, and depression. But plaintiff denied depression symptoms and the record contained evidence that her sleep apnea was not as severe as she claimed. ...


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