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Bromley v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

December 28, 2017

RENEE M. BROMLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Stephanie Dawkins Davis, United States Magistrate Judge.

         OPINION AND ORDER: (1) OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS (ECF NO. 17); (2) ADOPTING THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S SEPTEMBER 15, 2017 REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION (ECF NO. 16); (3) DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO. 13); (4) GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO. 14); AND (5) AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY

          Paul D. Borman, United States District Judge.

         On September 15, 2017, Magistrate Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis issued a Report and Recommendation on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF No. 16, Report and Recommendation.) In the Report and Recommendation, the Magistrate Judge recommended that this Court deny Plaintiff Renee M. Bromley's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13, Pl.'s Mot.), grant Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14, Def.'s Mot.), and affirm the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security to deny Plaintiffs claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. (ECF Nos. 11-11-10, Transcript of Social Security Proceedings (hereinafter “Tr. at ”) at 11-19.).

         Now before the Court are Plaintiffs Objections to the Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 17, Pl.'s Objs.) Defendant filed a timely Response. (ECF No. 18, Def.'s Resp.) Having conducted a de novo review of the parts of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation to which objections have been filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court will overrule Plaintiffs Objections and adopt the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Magistrate Judge comprehensively set forth the procedural and factual background of this matter in her Report and Recommendation. (See Report and Recommendation at 2-4.) The Court adopts that account here.

         In summary, Plaintiff filed the instant claims on November 18, 2013, alleging disability beginning October 24, 2013. After Plaintiff's claims were initially disapproved by the Commissioner of Social Security on April 22, 2014, Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was conducted on May 7, 2015 before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Christopher Ambrose. (Report and Recommendation at 2.)

         In a decision issued on May 13, 2015, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. The Magistrate Judge summarized the ALJ's specific findings as follows:

The ALJ applied the five-step disability analysis [required by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)] to plaintiff's claims and found at step one that plaintiff did not engage in any substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (Tr. 13). At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: status post left parameridian stroke, hypertension, insulin dependent diabetes, nicotine dependency, adjustment disorder with depressed mood, obesity, and status post thyroid cancer with thyroidectomy. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled one of the listings in the regulations. (Tr. 14). The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform:
…light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b)[1] except the claimant can frequently use foot controls with right lower extremity. She can frequently handle of (sic) objects and can occasionally finger of (sic) objects with right upper extremity. The claimant can climb no ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. The claimant is able to perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks with only occasional interactions with the public and coworkers.
(Tr. 15). At step four, the ALJ determined that plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work. (Tr. 17). At step five, the ALJ denied plaintiff benefits because he found that plaintiff could perform a significant number of jobs available in the national economy. (Tr. 18).

         (Report and Recommendation at 3-4.)

         In recommending that this Court affirm the ALJ's findings, the Magistrate Judge addressed three distinct challenges that Plaintiff raised to those findings in her Motion for Summary Judgment. First, the Magistrate Judge found that the ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination was supported by substantial evidence even though the record did not contain a physician's assessment specifically detailing Plaintiff's physical limitations, both because Plaintiff's medical records and state agency physician testimony undermined the credibility of Plaintiff's own testimony as to her limitations, and because Plaintiff did not establish that the ALJ had an obligation to order a consultative examination (or that there was any evidence that such an examination would have yielded a different result). (See Report and Recommendation at 15-21.) Second, the Magistrate Judge found that the RFC as determined by the ALJ adequately accounts for Plaintiff's mental impairments, and that there was no indication that the hypothetical that the ALJ posed to the testifying vocational expert (“VE”) was insufficient to convey any cognitive limitations that Plaintiff had. In a similar vein, the Magistrate Judge found that the RFC adequately accounts for Plaintiff's obesity because there was no indication that the ALJ failed to sufficiently consider that impairment throughout the five-step disability evaluation. (See Report and Recommendation at 21-26.) Finally, the Magistrate Judge found that the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff could perform a significant number of jobs available in the national economy was supported by substantial evidence because Plaintiff had not shown a failure on the ALJ's part to reconcile his RFC determination with the available jobs specified by the VE. (See Report and Recommendation at 26-28.)

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court conducts a de novo review of the portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation to which a party has filed “specific written objections” in a timely manner. Lyons v. Comm'r Soc. Sec, 351 F.Supp.2d 659, 661 (E.D. Mich. 2004). A district court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” Id. Only those objections that are specific are entitled to a de novo review under the statute. Mira v. Marshall, 806 F.2d 636, 637 (6th Cir. 1986). “The parties have the duty to pinpoint those portions of the magistrate's report that the district court must specially consider.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). “A general objection, or one that merely restates the arguments previously presented is not sufficient to alert the court to alleged errors on the part of the magistrate judge.” Aldrich v. Bock, 327 F.Supp.2d 743, 747 (E.D. Mich. 2004). Likewise, an objection that does nothing more than disagree with a magistrate judge's determination “without explaining the source of the error” is not a valid objection. Howard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991).

         In reviewing the findings of the ALJ, the Court is limited to determining whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence and made pursuant to proper legal standards. See Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(h)); see also Cutlip v. Sec't of Health and Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Kyle v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 609 F.3d 847, 854 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Lindsley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601, 604 (6th Cir. 2009)); see also McGlothin v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 299 F. App'x 516, 522 (6th Cir. 2008) (recognizing that substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance”) (internal quotation marks omitted). “If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, [the court] must defer to that ...


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