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Maloziec v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 16, 2018


          R. Steven Whalen Magistrate Judge.


          DAVID M. LAWSON United States District Judge.

         The plaintiff filed the present action on February 9, 2017 seeking review of the Commissioner's decision denying his claims for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge R. Steven Whalen pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and E.D. Mich. LR 72.1(b)(3). Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment to reverse the decision of the Commissioner and award benefits. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment requesting affirmance of the decision of the Commissioner. Judge Whalen filed a report on January 16, 2018 recommending that the defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted, the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be denied, and the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. The plaintiff filed timely objections, and the defendant filed a non-substantive response. The matter is now before the Court.

         The plaintiff, who is now 30 years old, filed his application for supplemental security income on June 22, 2012, when he was 25. He had no previous relevant work experience, and he alleged a disability onset date of January 1, 1998, due to bipolar disorder, anxiety, severe depression, hypertension, panic disorder, chronic pain syndrome, a fractured right ankle, tendinitis, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic attacks, hip pain due to a previous injury, non-epileptic seizures, ticks, and a history of one epileptic seizure.

         The plaintiff's application was denied initially on December 4, 2012. He timely filed a request for an administrative hearing, and on January 13, 2014, the plaintiff appeared before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) B. Lloyd Blair. On February 24, 2014, ALJ Blair issued a written decision in which he found that the plaintiff was not disabled. On June 10, 2015, the Appeals Council remanded the case to obtain additional evidence on the plaintiff's conditions and for further consideration of the plaintiff's maximum residual functional capacity. On November 19, 2015, after conducting a second hearing, ALJ Blair again determined that the plaintiff was not disabled. On December 9, 2016, the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. The plaintiff then filed his complaint seeking judicial review.

         ALJ Blair reached his conclusion that the plaintiff was not disabled by applying the five-step sequential analysis prescribed by the Secretary in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). He found that the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 22, 2012 (step one); and the plaintiff suffered from a history of heroin abuse, alcohol abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, and panic disorder, impairments which were “severe” within the meaning of the Social Security Act (step two). He also determined that the plaintiff's right ankle tenosynovitis was not severe, a finding not challenged in this case. The ALJ also found that none of those impairments alone or in combination met or equaled a listing in the regulations (step three).

         Before proceeding further, the ALJ determined that the plaintiff retained the capacity to perform a range of work at all exertional levels, but that he had substantial nonexertional limitations. He found that the plaintiff's work: (1) must be limited to simple, unskilled tasks with one-to-three step instructions; (2) cannot require concentration on detailed/precision tasks, multitasking, reading, computing/calculating, or problem solving; and (3) cannot require teamwork, or working in close physical proximity to coworkers. (4) The plaintiff should have minimal contact with supervisors, and no contact with the public; and (5) he must be able to work at a flexible pace without quotas mandating a specific number of pieces per hour, or with up line or down line coworkers dependent on the plaintiff's productivity.

         At step four, he found that the plaintiff had no past relevant work experience. In applying step five, the ALJ considered the testimony of a vocational expert, who stated that even with these limitations, the plaintiff could perform jobs such as assembler, with 1, 500 jobs existing in southeast Michigan and 90, 000 jobs existing nationally; inspector, with 1, 000 jobs existing in southeast Michigan and 60, 000 jobs existing nationally; and packager, with 1, 500 jobs existing in southeast Michigan and 60, 000 jobs existing nationally. Based on those findings and using Medical Vocational Rule 202.20 as a framework, which applies to a person limited to light work, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.

         The plaintiff sought judicial review of this decision, and filed a motion for summary judgment asking for an award of benefits. He did not take issue with the conclusion that he was not limited by exertional deficits. Instead, he argued in essence that the ALJ's determination that the plaintiff could perform any work continuously for eight hours per day, five days per week was not supported by substantial evidence. He points to the treatment records and opinions of his treating psychiatrist, Fred Stelson, M.D., who also testified at the administrative hearing, and insists that they were not given the appropriate weight. He contended the ALJ cherry-picked the evidence coming from the activity logs and therapist Patrick Reid (who he refers to as “a Dr. Reid”) to support the finding that the plaintiff's own description of his deficits is not fully credible. He also contended that the ALJ did not look to separate twelve-month periods to see if there was disability for a closed period.

         These arguments were made in support of five discrete issues that he listed in his opening brief. The magistrate judge grouped them into two categories, addressing them in turn. He found that the ALJ fairly considered the record as a whole and did not misstate any facts, including the statements in the plaintiff's father's daily activity log; other observations by the ALJ, which the plaintiff characterized as “snippets” from the record, were contextually accurate; the consideration of Dr. Stelson's records and opinions was reasonably accurate and within the proper bounds, even for a treating source; the ALJ did not err in the conclusions he drew from Dr. Stelson's records and testimony, including later records dating from 2015; and the ALJ did not discount improperly the findings of consultative examiner Suzann Kenna. Next, the magistrate judge found that, although the plaintiff's argument that he was entitled to benefits for a closed period was “undeveloped, ” the ALJ properly evaluated the records of the plaintiff's treatment in 2012, 2013, and 2014 in finding no disability. The magistrate judge found no fault with the ALJ's reliance on the findings of Dr. Rose Moten, a non-examining records-reviewer, over the later records of Dr. Stelson.

         The plaintiff filed timely objections. The Commissioner responded, arguing - incorrectly - that the objections were not specific enough and merely reprised the summary judgment brief. The defendant offered no substantive arguments.

         The filing of timely objections to a report and recommendation requires the court to “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667 (1980); United States v. Walters, 638 F.2d 947 (6th Cir. 1981). This de novo review requires the court to re-examine all of the relevant evidence previously reviewed by the magistrate judge in order to determine whether the recommendation should be accepted, rejected, or modified in whole or in part. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         “The filing of objections provides the district court with the opportunity to consider the specific contentions of the parties and to correct any errors immediately, ” Walters, 638 F.2d at 950, enabling the court “to focus attention on those issues-factual and legal-that are at the heart of the parties' dispute, ” Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 147 (1985). As a result, “‘[o]nly those specific objections to the magistrate's report made to the district court will be preserved for appellate review; making some objections but failing to raise others will not preserve all the objections a party may have.'” McClanahan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 830, 837 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Smith v. Detroit Fed'n of Teachers Local 231, 829 F.2d 1370, 1373 (6th Cir. 1987)).

         The Court has reviewed the file, the report and recommendation, the plaintiff's objections, and the Commissioner's response and has made a de novo review of the ...

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