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Pitts v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 14, 2018

FRANK PITTS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DISTRICT JUDGE JOHN CORBETT O'MEARA MAGISTRATE JUDGE MONA K. MAJZOUB

          MONA K. MAJZOUB, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

         Plaintiff Frank Pitts seeks judicial review of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's determination that he is not entitled to social security benefits for his physical and mental impairments under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Docket no. 1.) Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 14) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 17). Plaintiff has also filed a reply brief in support of his Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket no. 18.) This matter has been referred to the undersigned for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). (Docket no. 4.) The Court has reviewed the pleadings, dispenses with a hearing pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f)(2), and issues this Report and Recommendation.

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 14) be DENIED and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 17) be GRANTED.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff protectively filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on April 11, 2012 and May 3, 2012, respectively, alleging that he has been disabled since September 2, 2005, due to a learning disability, vision problems, stomach ulcers, and pain in his knees. (TR 114-15, 250-58, 295.) The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's claims on July 26, 2012, and Plaintiff requested a de novo hearing. (TR 87-115, 156-57.) On July 10, 2013, Plaintiff appeared with a representative and testified at the hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Jerome B. Blum. (TR 60-86.) The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on September 21, 2013, but the Appeals Council remanded the matter for further consideration of Plaintiff's maximum residual functional capacity (RFC) and of whether drug addiction and alcoholism are contributing factors to the finding of disability. (TR 116-44.) On remand, Plaintiff appeared with a representative and testified at another hearing before the ALJ on August 20, 2015, at which Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to July 1, 2014. (TR 36-59.) The ALJ then issued another unfavorable decision on September 18, 2015, which the Appeals Council declined to review. (TR 1-6, 15-29.) Plaintiff subsequently commenced this action for judicial review, and the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, which are currently before the Court.

         III. HEARING TESTIMONY AND MEDICAL EVIDENCE

         Plaintiff (docket no. 14 at 5-9), Defendant (docket no. 17 at 5-7), and the ALJ (TR 19-20, 21-22, 23-27, 28) have set forth detailed, factual summaries of Plaintiff's medical record and the hearing testimony. Defendant also incorporates the ALJ's recitation of the facts into her brief. (Docket no. 17 at 7.) Having conducted an independent review of Plaintiff's medical record and the hearing transcript, the undersigned finds that there are no material inconsistencies between these recitations of the record. Therefore, in lieu of re-summarizing this information, the undersigned will incorporate the above-cited factual recitations by reference and will also make references and citations to the record as necessary to address the parties' arguments throughout this Report and Recommendation.

         IV. ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE'S DETERMINATION

         As an initial matter, because the amended alleged onset date of July 1, 2014 postdates Plaintiff's date last insured, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's request for a hearing regarding his application for disability insurance benefits was withdrawn and dismissed and that the initial unfavorable July 26, 2012 determination regarding that application remains in effect.[1] (TR 15.) With regard to Plaintiff's application for supplemental security income, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended alleged onset date of July 1, 2014, and that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: status-post motor vehicle-pedestrian accident with residual pain syndrome, pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis, anxiety, mood disorder, and history of a learning disorder. (TR 18.) Additionally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (TR 18-22.) The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the following RFC:

[C]laimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), except such work must be unskilled in nature and allow for a sit/stand option exercisable at the claimant's discretion.

(TR 22-27 (footnote omitted).) Subsequently, in reliance on the vocational expert's (VE's) testimony, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (TR 28-29.) Therefore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act at any time from July 1, 2014, through the date of the decision. (TR 16, 29.)

         V. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decisions. Judicial review of the Commissioner's decisions is limited to determining whether his findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether he employed the proper legal standards. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Walters v. Comm'r, 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Walters, 127 F.3d at 528. It is not the function of this Court to try cases de novo, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or decide questions of credibility. See Brainard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989); Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984).

         In determining the existence of substantial evidence, the court must examine the administrative record as a whole. See Kirk v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 536 (6th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it must be affirmed, even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently, Kinsella v. Schweiker, 708 F.2d 1058, 1059 (6th Cir. 1983), and even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. See Her v. Comm'r, 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999); Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (en banc) (noting that the substantial evidence standard “presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which the decisionmakers can go either way, without interference by the courts”). “But ‘[a]n ALJ's failure to follow agency rules and regulations denotes a lack ...


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