Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Williams v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 26, 2018

MICHAEL E. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ARTHUR J. TARNOW DISTRICT JUDGE

          RECOMMENDATION TO DENY PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR REMAND PURSUANT TO SENTENCE FOUR (DE 13) AND GRANT DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DE 16)

          ANTHONY P. PATTI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. RECOMMENDATION: For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that the Court DENY Plaintiff's motion for remand pursuant to sentence four (DE 13), GRANT Defendant's motion for summary judgment (DE 16), and AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

         II. REPORT

         Plaintiff, Michael E. Williams, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for social security supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. This matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation on Plaintiff's motion to remand pursuant to sentence four (DE 13), the Commissioner's cross motion for summary judgment (DE 16), Plaintiff's reply (DE 17), and the administrative record (DE 10).

         A. Background

         Plaintiff filed his application for SSI benefits on July 31, 2013, alleging that he has been disabled since January 1, 2001. (R. at 205-11.) Plaintiff's application was denied, and he sought a de novo hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. at 135-44.) ALJ Michael R. Dunn held a hearing on April 2, 2015, at which Plaintiff was represented by counsel. (R. at 50-101.) On May 29, 2015, ALJ Dunn determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. at 27-49.) The ALJ recognized that Plaintiff had previously filed an application for SSI benefits on January 4, 2011, which was denied, following a hearing, by a decision from ALJ Andrew Sloss on February 6, 2012. (R. at 30, 102-119.) ALJ Sloss found that Plaintiff could perform a full range of medium work, with some additional nonexertional limitations, and that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from September 3, 1999 through the date of the decision. (R. at 102-19.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's appeal of that decision, and Plaintiff did not further appeal the unfavorable decision. (R. at 30, 120-22.) Accordingly, ALJ Sloss's decision became the final decision and binding on all parties. (R. at 30.) ALJ Dunn found that the present record contains a significant amount of new and additional evidence, providing a sufficient basis to depart from the findings and decision rendered by ALJ Sloss. (R. at 30-31.) Accordingly, ALJ Dunn considered all of the evidence in the record, without any deference or acquiescence to the prior decision, and determined that Plaintiff was still not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. at 30-43.) On September 28, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 1-6.) Thus, ALJ Dunn's decision became the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff then timely commenced the instant action on November 16, 2016. (DE 1.)

         B. Plaintiff's Medical History and Hearing Testimony

         Plaintiff's combined medical records span the period from August 9, 2011 through March 16, 2016, and generally include complaints of back, neck and wrist pain, breathing problems and chest pains. (R. at 293-1268.) The 975 pages of medical records are mostly comprised of hospital and treatment records from a number of health care providers as well as diagnostic tests, and also include medical source statements from Plaintiff's treating physicians, Dr. Nikolas Dimovski and Dr. Nael Tarakji, consulting examiner Dr. Michael Geoghegan, and State agency medical consultant Dr. Quan Nguyen. These records will be discussed as necessary below.

         Plaintiff testified at the April 2, 2015 hearing before ALJ Dunn (see R. at 57-87), and vocational expert Mary Everts also provided testimony. (R. at 88-100.) The hearing testimony will be cited as necessary below.

         C. The Administrative Decision

         On May 29, 2015, ALJ Dunn issued an “unfavorable” decision. At Step 1 of the sequential evaluation process, [1] the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 31, 2013, the application date. (R. at 33.) At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: mild degenerative disc disease with scoliosis and mild L5 nerve root irritation; bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS); obesity; and, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). (R. at 33-35.) At Step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (R. at 35-36.) Prior to Step 4 of the sequential process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[2] to:

perform light work … except he can only frequently handle, finger, and feel bilaterally. The claimant can frequently balance, but can only occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, or climb ramps and stairs. The claimant can never climb ladders and scaffolds. He can never be exposed to unprotected heights and must avoid hazardous machinery. The claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and heat, vibration, and pulmonary irritants. He can never operate a motor vehicle or use handheld power tools.

(R. at 36-40.) At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled because he is capable of performing past relevant work as a security guard as it is actually performed. (R. at 41.) The ALJ then continued and made alternative findings for Step 5 that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (R. at 42-43.) ALJ Dunn therefore concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, since July 31, 2013. (R. at 43.)

         D. Standard of Review

         The District Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). When reviewing a case under the Social Security Act, the Court “must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it ‘is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.'” Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. at 2009) (quoting Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. at 2007)); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”). Under this standard, “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 (quoting Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994)). “Substantial evidence supports a decision if ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion' backs it up.” Biestek v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 880 F.3d 778, 783 (6th Cir. 2017) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). In deciding whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the 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); Rogers, 486 F.3d at 247 (“It is of course for the ALJ, and not the reviewing court, to evaluate the credibility of witnesses, including that of the claimant.”); Richardson, 402 U.S. at 399 (“We therefore are presented with the not uncommon situation of conflicting medical evidence. The trier of fact has the duty to resolve that conflict.”). Furthermore, the claimant “has the ultimate burden to establish an entitlement to benefits by proving the existence of a disability.” Moon v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1175, 1181 (6th Cir. 1990).

         Although the substantial evidence standard is deferential, it is not trivial. The Court must “‘take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from [the] weight'” of the Commissioner's decision. TNS, Inc. v. NLRB, 296 F.3d 384, 395 (6th Cir. 2002) (quoting Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 487 (1951)). Nevertheless, “if substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, this Court defers to that finding ‘even if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion.'” Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”); see also Biestek, 880 F.3d at 783 (“[A] decision supported by substantial evidence must stand, even if we might decide the question differently based on the same evidence.”) (citing Wright-Hines v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 597 F.3d 392, 395 (6th Cir. 2010)). Finally, even if the ALJ's decision meets the substantial evidence standard, “‘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.'” Rabbers, 582 F.3d at 651 (quoting Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746 (6th Cir. 2007)).

         E. Analysis

         Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred in his: (1) evaluation of the medical opinion evidence of (a) his treating neurologist, (b) his treating family physician, and (c) an “unidentified source;” and, (2) determination of Plaintiff's RFC because “the use of a cane for balance is not taken into consideration.” (DE 13 at 10-19.) The Commissioner opposes Plaintiff's motion, asserting that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision. (DE 16 at 3-25.) I will address each argument in turn.

         1. The ALJ's Evaluation of the Medical Opinion Evidence

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by failing to provide “good reasons” for giving little weight to the medical opinions of his treating neurologist, Dr. Nael M. Tarakji, and his treating family physician, Dr. Nikolas Dimovski. (DE 13 at 6-12.) The Commissioner responds that Plaintiff has not demonstrated that the ALJ committed any error when weighing the opinion evidence. (DE 16 at 4-18.)

         The ALJ must consider all medical opinions that he or she receives in evaluating a claimant's case. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(b). The regulations define medical opinions as “statements from physicians . . . that reflect judgments about the nature and severity of your impairment(s), including your symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis, what you can still do despite impairment(s), and your physical or mental restrictions.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(a)(2). Administrative law judges “will consider . . . administrative medical findings and medical evidence from our Federal or State agency medical or psychological consultants . . .[, ]” but “are not required to adopt any prior administrative medical findings[.]” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1513a(b)(1), 416.913a(b)(1).

         The ALJ generally gives deference to the opinions of a treating source “since these are likely to be the medical professionals most able to provide a detailed, longitudinal picture of [a patient's] medical impairment(s) and may bring a unique perspective to the medical evidence that cannot be obtained from the objective medical findings alone . . . .” 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2); Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 408 (6th Cir. 2009). To qualify as a ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.