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Lundby v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 28, 2018

JEFFREY PATRICK LUNDBY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

         MEMORANDUM AND ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION (Doc. 23), OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS (Doc. 24), DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. 19), GRANTING THE COMMISSIONER'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. 22), AFFIRMING THE ALJ'S DECISION DENYING BENEFITS, AND DISMISSING THE CASE

          AVERN COHN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is a Social Security case. Plaintiff Jeffrey P. Lundby (Lundby) appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Lundby claims that he has been disabled since August 3, 2009, due to stomach problems, depression, and back, shoulder, elbow, and hand pain.

         The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 19, 22). The motions were referred to a magistrate judge (MJ) for a report and recommendation (MJRR). After the MJRR recommended that Lundby's motion be denied and the Commissioner's motion be granted, Lundby filed timely objections. For the reasons that follow, the Court overrules Lundby's objections, adopts the MJRR, denies Lundby's motion for summary judgment, grants the Commissioner's motion, and affirms the administrative law judge's (ALJ) decision denying benefits.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         As the parties have not objected to the MJ's recitation of the procedural history and administrative record, the Court adopts that portion of the MJRR as if fully set forth herein. A brief history of the procedural posture follows.

         Lundby applied for DIB and SSI on August 28, 2013. He alleged disability as of August 3, 2009.

         When the Commissioner denied the claims, Lundby requested a hearing. On January 27, 2015, Lundby appeared with counsel before an ALJ. At the hearing, Lundby testified on his own behalf. Following the hearing, Lundby submitted additional medical evidence, including reports from additional consultative physical and psychological examinations ordered by the ALJ. All additional evidence was entered into the record.

         The ALJ issued a written decision denying Lundby's claims, finding that Lundby was not disabled. Lundby's date last insured (DLI) is December 31, 2014.

         The Appeals Council denied Lundby's request for review, rendering the decision of the Commissioner final. Lundby appeals from that decision.

         B. The ALJ's Decision

         The MJRR summarized the ALJ's decision denying benefits:

On June 26, 2015, ALJ Sasena 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 August 3, 2009, the alleged onset date. At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease, degenerative disc disease, a history of abdominal pain, and major depressive disorder. 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. Prior to Step 4 of the sequential process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[2] to:
[P]erform light work . . . except that he can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He should avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected heights, moving machinery, and vibrating tools. The claimant is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks that require little judgment and can be learned in a short period of time. The claimant should have no interaction with the general public, but can have occasional interaction with coworkers. He can work in proximity to others, but not as a team member. The claimant requires the option to sit or stand, and change positions after fifteen minutes.
At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has past relevant work as a carpenter, but that he is unable to perform it. At Step 5, the ALJ found 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.

(Doc. 23 at 3-5).

         C. The Parties' Arguments on Summary Judgment

         1. Lundby's Arguments

         Lundby made three arguments to show that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. First, Lundby said that the ALJ failed to properly apply the treating medical source rule and give controlling weight, rather than “limited weight, ” to the opinions of Lundby's treating physicians Dr. Smith and Dr. Billies. Lundby said the ALJ should have given controlling weight to the two treating opinions because they were consistent with one another and with all other medical evidence, and they imposed limitations that were far in excess of those in the RFC.

         Second, Lundby said that the ALJ failed to account for his limitations on fine and gross manipulation, and reaching overhead. Lundby said that even though every physician offered an opinion that Lundby had limited use of his upper extremities, the RFC neither acknowledged those limitations nor incorporated them.

         Finally, Lundby said that the ALJ's decision regarding his mental limitations was unsupported by substantial evidence because the opinion of his treating therapist, Lisa Wilmot, was improperly afforded “limited weight, ” while the opinion of a consulting examiner, Dr. Kirzner, was afforded “significant weight.” Further, Lundby said that despite assigning Dr. Kirzner's opinion “significant weight, ” the ALJ improperly assumed the role of doctor ...


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