United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
HEATHER N. MONVILLE, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
AND ORDER (1) ADOPTING MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S AUGUST 18, 2017
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [ECF NO. 17]; (2) DENYING
PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [ECF NO. 10]; (3)
GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [ECF NO.
14]; AND (4) AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DECISION DENYING
PLAINTIFF SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS
V. PARKER, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
filed a Title II application for disability insurance
benefits on August 21, 2013, alleging that she became
disabled on March 16, 2010. The Social Security
Administration denied Plaintiff's application for
benefits initially on September 25, 2013. Upon
Plaintiff's request, Administrative Law Judge Andrew G.
Sloss (“ALJ Sloss”) conducted a de novo hearing
on March 5, 2015. ALJ Sloss issued a decision on March 16,
2015, finding Plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of
the Social Security Act and therefore not entitled to
benefits. ALJ Sloss' decision became the final decision
of the Social Security Commissioner
(“Commissioner”) on May 20, 2016, when the Social
Security Appeals Council denied review. Plaintiff initiated
this lawsuit seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner's unfavorable decision on June 15, 2016.
both parties filed motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos.
10, 14.) The Court has referred this matter to Magistrate
Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis for all pretrial proceedings,
including a hearing and determination of all non-dispositive
matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and/or a
report and recommendation (“R&R”) on all
dispositive matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B). (ECF No. 13.) On August 18, 2017, Magistrate
Judge Davis filed her R&R recommending that this Court
deny Plaintiff's motion, grant the Commissioner's
motion, and affirm the Commissioner's decision finding
Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (ECF
No. 17.) At the conclusion of the R&R, Magistrate Judge
Davis advises the parties that they may object to and seek
review of the R&R within fourteen days of service upon
them. Plaintiff filed objections to the R&R on August 31,
2017. (ECF No. 18.)
Social Security Act provides:
Any individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security made after a hearing to which he was a
party . . . may obtain a review of such decision by a civil
action . . . The court shall have the power to enter . . . a
judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without
remanding the cause for a rehearing. The findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . .
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (emphasis added); see also Boyes
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 46 F.3d 510,
511-12 (6th Cir. 1994). Courts are to review the entire
administrative record to determine whether the ALJ's
decision is supported by substantial evidence, but may
“not reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve
conflicts in evidence, decide questions of credibility, or
substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.”
Reynolds v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 424 F.App'x
411, 414 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing Youghiogheny & Ohio
Coal Co. v. Webb, 49 F.3d 244, 246 (6th Cir. 1995)).
“Substantial evidence is defined as ‘such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.' ” Abbott v.
Sullivan, 905 F.2d 918, 922-23 (6th Cir. 1990) (quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 1427 (1971)). The Commissioner's findings are not
subject to reversal because substantial evidence exists in
the record to support a different conclusion. McClanahan
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 833 (6th Cir.
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's
decision, a reviewing court generally must affirm.
Studaway v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.,
815 F.2d 1074, 1076 (6th Cir. 1987). However, where the ALJ
failed to follow the Social Security Act's procedural
regulations, the ALJ's decision must be reversed even if
the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Wilson
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir.
reviews de novo the parts of an R&R to which a party
objects. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b); Thomas v.
Halter, 131 F.Supp.2d 942, 944 (E.D. Mich. 2001).
However, a reviewing court “is not required to
articulate all the reasons it rejects a party's
the authority of the Social Security Act, the Social Security
Administration established a five-step sequential evaluation
process for determining whether an individual is disabled. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). If the agency determines that
the claimant is disabled or not disabled at a step, it need
not proceed further. Id. However, if the agency does
not find that the claimant is disabled or not disabled at a
step, it must proceed to the next step. Id.
“The burden of proof is on the claimant through the
first four steps . . . If the analysis reaches the fifth step
without a finding that the claimant is not disabled, the
burden transfers to the [Commissioner].” Preslar v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107,
1110 (6th Cir. 1994); see also Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
Plaintiff's case, the doctrine of res judicata
constrained ALJ Sloss' application of the five-step
sequential evaluation process because Plaintiff previously
filed a claim for social security benefits for which she
received a partially favorable decision in March 2010.
See Drummond v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 126 F.3d
837, 842-43 (6th Cir. 1997) (holding that adjudicators must
adopt the final decision by an ALJ or the Appeals Council on
a prior claim in determining whether the claimant is disabled
with respect to an unadjudicated period absent new and
material evidence). In that 2010 decision, the Commissioner
granted Plaintiff a closed period of disability from April 2,
2006 through February 2, 2008, finding that all of
Plaintiff's impairments (i.e., nonunion fracture of
shoulder/collar bone and depression) were nonsevere after she
admittedly achieved medical improvement on the latter date.
(A.R. at 114-121, ECF No. 7-3 at Pg ID 138-45.) ALJ Sloss was
required to follow the prior 2010 decision unless Plaintiff
demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that “her
condition so worsened in comparison to her earlier condition
that she was unable to perform substantial gainful
activity.” Casey v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 987 F.2d 1230, 1232-33 (6th Cir. 1993).
the five-step sequential evaluation process, ALJ Sloss first
considered whether Plaintiff was currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b). ALJ Sloss concluded that Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the
relevant period-that is, from her alleged onset date of March
16, 2010 through her date last insured of March 31, 2011.
(A.R. at 39, ECF No. 7-2 at Pg ID 62.) At the second step,
ALJ Sloss considered whether Plaintiff had a severe medically
determinable physical or mental impairment during the
relevant period that met the duration requirement of the
regulations and significantly limited her ability to do basic
work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii)
and (c). ALJ Sloss concluded that Plaintiff had the following
impairments through the date last insured: neuropathy in the
left shoulder, sacroiliitis, and depression. (A.R. at 40, ECF
No. 7-2 at Pg ID 63.) However, ALJ Sloss concluded that
Plaintiff did not present evidence to show that her
impairments worsened since the 2010 disability decision to
the point where they significantly limited her ability to do
basic work activities by her date last insured.
(Id.) ALJ Sloss therefore ...