United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S
OBJECTIONS AND ADOPTING MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
MARIANNE O. BATTANI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court are Plaintiff Paul David Urbanczyk's objections
(Dkt. 27) to Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford's
July 21, 2017 Report and Recommendation ("R &
R") (Dkt. 26). The R & R recommends that the Court
deny Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 16), grant
the Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's motion
for remand (Dkt. 19, 25), and remand this matter to the
Defendant Commissioner under sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) for correction of the time period covered by
the challenged decision of the Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ"). For the reasons discussed below, the Court
OVERRULES Plaintiff's objections and ADOPTS the
Magistrate Judge's R & R in its entirety.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
party objects to the Magistrate Judge's account of the
background facts concerning Plaintiffs claims for Social
Security benefits and medical history. Accordingly, the Court
adopts these unchallenged portions of the R & R.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
district court must conduct a de novo review of any
portion of a magistrate judge's R & R to which a
party objects. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The district court
"may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the
findings or recommendations made by the magistrate
judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The requirement of
de novo review "is a statutory recognition that
Article III of the United States Constitution mandates that
the judicial power of the United States be vested in judges
with life tenure." United States v. Shami, 754
F.2d 670, 672 (6th Cir. 1985). Accordingly, Congress enacted
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) to "insure[ ] that the
district judge would be the final arbiter" of matters
referred to a magistrate judge. Flournoy v.
Marshall, 842 F.2d 875, 878 (6th Cir. 1988).
Court must affirm the decision of the Defendant Commissioner
so long as "it is supported by substantial evidence and
was made pursuant to proper legal standards." Rogers
v. Commissioner of Social Security, 486 F.3d 234, 241
(6th Cir. 2007). "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, 486 F.3d at 241 (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted). If the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence, "it must be affirmed
even if the reviewing court would decide the matter
differently, and even if substantial evidence also supports
the opposite conclusion." Cutlip v. Secretary of
Health & Human Services, 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir.
1994) (citations omitted).
determining whether the Defendant Commissioner's factual
findings are supported by substantial evidence, the Court
confines its examination to the administrative record
considered as a whole. Wyatt v. Secretary of Health &
Human Services, 974 F.2d 680, 683 (6th Cir. 1992)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). There is no
requirement, however, that either the Commissioner or this
Court must discuss every piece of evidence in the record.
Kornecky v. Commissioner of Social Security, No.
04-2171, 167 F.App'x 496, 508 (6th Cir. Feb. 9, 2006).
Further, this 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).
objects to the R & R on two grounds. First, he takes
issue with the Magistrate Judge's determination that the
ALJ identified sufficient reasons, backed by substantial
evidence, for discounting the opinions of Plaintiff's
treating and examining physicians regarding Plaintiff's
mental and physical impairments and resulting limitations.
Next, he contends that the Magistrate Judge's harmless
error analysis should trigger a finding of disability under
the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt.
P, app'x 2. The Court addresses each of these objections
first challenge to the R & R, Plaintiff reiterates the
principal argument advanced in his underlying motion for
summary judgment: namely, that the ALJ impermissibly
"played doctor" by discounting the opinions of
Plaintiff's treating and examining physicians, and
instead substituting her own views as to the limitations
resulting from Plaintiffs mental and physical impairments.
Turning first to the evidence of his mental impairments,
Plaintiff notes that the ALJ gave no weight to the opinions
of either of the two medical professionals who evaluated
Plaintiff's mental health condition, and he surmises that
the ALJ must have improperly relied on her own, non-expert
review of the medical record in determining that
Plaintiff's mental impairments were not severe.
Magistrate Judge ably identified the flawed premise
underlying this argument. As observed in the R & R,
"it is [Plaintiff's] burden to demonstrate that he
suffers from severe mental impairments." (Dkt. 26, R
& R at 9.) Yet, it is indisputably the responsibility of
the ALJ to evaluate the medical and non-medical evidence in
order to identify Plaintiff's limitations and determine
his residual functional capacity ("RFC"), and
"[a]n ALJ does not improperly assume the role of a
medical expert" by performing these tasks. Coldiron
v. Commissioner of Social Security, No. 09-4071, 391
F.App'x 435, 439 (6th Cir. Aug. 12, 2010). As explained
by the Magistrate Judge, once the ALJ considered the opinions
of the two mental health professionals who evaluated
Plaintiff and determined that these opinions were entitled to
no weight, it readily followed - and the ALJ properly
concluded - that Plaintiff had not met his burden of
establishing that he suffers from a severe mental impairment
that would "preclude him from performing basic work
activities." (Dkt. 26, R & R at 9,
In the absence of evidence supporting a claimant's
allegation of a severe impairment with attendant limitations,
an ALJ does not "play doctor" by declining to
incorporate the alleged impairment and limitations into an
as for Plaintiffs contention that the ALJ also "played
doctor" in discounting the opinions of various medical
professionals regarding Plaintiff's physical limitations,
the Court again agrees with the Magistrate Judge that the ALJ
instead engaged in the appropriate function of determining,
in light of the record, what weight should be given to these
opinions. (See Id. at 14-21.) Contrary to Plaintiffs
assertion that the ALJ "simply ignored medical opinions
as to [Plaintiffs] physical limitations" and substituted
"her own independent conclusions" on matters that
demand medical expertise, (Dkt. 27, Plaintiffs Objections at
4), the Magistrate Judge carefully reviewed the ALJ's
decision and found (i) that the ALJ had supplied the
requisite "good reasons" for discounting the
opinion of Plaintiffs treating physician, Dr. Harris, (R
& R at 15-17), (ii) that substantial evidence supported
the ALJ's determination to give little weight to the
opinion of Dr. Glowacki, an ...