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Riddle v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 12, 2018

RITA E. RIDDLE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Patricia T. Morris, Magistrate Judge.

          OPINION AND ORDER ADOPTING IN PART AND REJECTING IN PART REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [17], GRANTING IN PART RIDDLE'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [13], AND DENYING THE COMMISSIONER'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [15]

          LAURIE J. MICHELSON, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Rita Riddle applied for Disability Insurance Benefits based upon numerous ailments, including fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, and obesity. In 2011, her claim was denied. In 2013, Riddle again applied for benefits. In November 2015, an administrative law judge (ALJ), acting on behalf of the Commissioner of Social Security, concluded that, while Riddle's physical condition had worsened since her prior denial, it had not deteriorated to a degree that rendered her disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Riddle appealed to this Court. The Court referred the case to Magistrate Judge Patricia Morris who issued a Report and Recommendation to grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment and to deny Riddle's. Riddle makes two objections.

         While the Court appreciates the Magistrate Judge's thorough consideration of the issues presented in the motions, for the reasons explained below, the Court respectfully disagrees with one aspect of her analysis and recommended disposition. Thus, the Court will adopt in part and reject in part the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and remand this action for further administrative proceedings.

         I.

         This Court performs a de novo review of those portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation to which the parties have objected. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). The Court need not and does not perform a de novo review of the report's unobjected-to findings. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985); Garrison v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, No. 10 -13990, 2012 WL 1278044, at *8 (E.D. Mich. Apr. 16, 2012).

         “This 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.” Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). “The substantial evidence standard is met if a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion.” Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Supporting a conclusion means there is more than a “scintilla” of evidence but it need not amount to a preponderance. See Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). “Even if supported by substantial evidence, however, a decision of the Commissioner will not be upheld where the SSA fails to follow its own regulations and where that error prejudices a claimant on the merits or deprives the claimant of a substantial right.” Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746 (6th Cir. 2007); see also Cole v. Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir. 2011) (“An ALJ's failure to follow agency rules and regulations denotes a lack of substantial evidence, even where the conclusion of the ALJ may be justified based upon the record.”) (citations and quotations omitted).

         II.

         A.

         The Report explicitly told the parties that each objection “must recite precisely the provision of this Report and Recommendation to which it pertain.” (R. 17, PID 748.) Unfortunately, Riddle's first objection neither recites the precise provision of the Report to which she objects nor does she clearly state her objection. Thus, the Court will review what it gleans to be Riddle's first objection.

         First, Riddle argues that her pain specialist's records demonstrate complete disability. Next, Riddle asserts that the Magistrate Judge provided improper post-hoc evidence and rationale to support the ALJ's residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment. Riddle then adds three cursory objections: that the ALJ erred by not discussing her obesity apart from its “cumulative impact” “in combination with her other medical conditions”; that the ALJ did not make clear what weight she was assigning to Riddle's testimony or to her pain specialist; and that the ALJ erred in finding that methadone was not prescribed before the date last insured. (See R. 18, PID 749-55.)

         The Commissioner asserts that the three “cursory objections” are newly-raised and therefore waived. (R. 20, PID 763.)

         The Court agrees that two of the issues and part of the third issue are newly-raised and therefore waived. First, Riddle's motion for summary judgment did not challenge the ALJ's consideration of her obesity. (See R. 13.) The motion did not claim that the ALJ erred in determining when Riddle began taking methadone. (See id.) And the motion did not raise the ALJ's failure to assign a weight to the pain specialist's records. (Id.) So these issues are deemed waived. See Swain v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 379 Fed.Appx. 512, 517-18 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Ward v. United States, 208 F.3d 216 (table) (6th Cir. 2000)).

         Riddle's motion for summary judgment did, however, contest the credibility assessment of her testimony and the ALJ's failure to articulate what weight she gave Riddle's testimony. (R. 13, PID 688.) So the Court will review the objection with respect to Riddle's testimony. Riddle, aside from summarizing her argument to the Magistrate Judge, does not ...


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