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Sulaka v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 9, 2018

MARK ANTHONY SULAKA, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

         ORDER OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS, ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION, DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AND AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER

          Mag. Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford

          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Mark Anthony Sulaka (Plaintiff) applied for disability benefits on May 18, 2013 alleging disabilities beginning January 1, 2012. His application was initially denied on July 25, 2013. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The hearing was held on February 3, 2015, after which the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review. Plaintiff sought review in this Court on October 26, 2016. The case was referred to Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. Judge Stafford issued a report recommending that the Court grant Defendant's motion and deny Plaintiff's motion. Plaintiff filed timely objections to Judge Stafford's report and recommendation.

         I.

         Neither party has specifically objected to Judge Stafford's summary of the facts and history of the administrative proceedings in the case. That summary is therefore adopted in full. Notably, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act and that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of the disability. ECF No. 11-2 at 20. The ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: “osteoarthritis of both knees, ischemia, and obesity, ” and the following non-severe impairments: “sleep apnea, hypertension, and plantar fasciitis.” Id. The ALJ ultimately determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform past relevant work under 20 CFR 404.1565, but that he had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). Id. at 22-27.

         II.

A.

         When reviewing a case under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court must affirm the Commissioner's conclusions “absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standards or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.” Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). Substantial evidence is “such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (citation omitted).

         Under the Social Security Act (“The Act”), a claimant is entitled to disability benefits if he can demonstrate that he is in fact disabled. Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). Disability is defined by the Act as an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505, 416.05. A plaintiff carries the burden of establishing that he meets this definition. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(5)(A); see also Dragon v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 470 F. App'x 454, 459 (6th Cir. 2012). Corresponding federal regulations outline a five-step sequential process to determine whether an individual qualifies as disabled:

First, the claimant must demonstrate that he has not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period of disability. Second, the claimant must show that he suffers from a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment. Third, if the claimant shows that his impairment meets or medically equals one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, he is deemed disabled. Fourth, the ALJ determines whether, based on the claimant's residual functional capacity, the claimant can perform his past relevant work, in which case the claimant is not disabled. Fifth, the ALJ determines whether, based on the claimant's residual functional capacity, as well as his age, education, and work experience, the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, in which case the claimant is not disabled.

Courter v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 479 F. App'x 713, 719 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Wilson v.Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 548 (6th Cir. 2004)). Through Step Four, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving the existence and severity of limitations caused by his impairments and the fact that he is precluded from performing his past relevant work. At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to identify a significant number of jobs in the economy that accommodate the claimant's residual functional capacity (determined at step four) and vocational profile. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n. 5 (1987).

         B.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72, a party may object to and seek review of a Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2). Objections must be stated with specificity. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 151 (1985) (citation omitted). If objections are made, “[t]he district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). De novo review requires at least a review of the evidence before the Magistrate Judge; the Court may not act solely on the basis of a Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation. See Hill v. Duriron Co., 656 F.2d 1208, 1215 (6th Cir. 1981). After ...


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