United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER OVERRULING DEFENDANT'S
OBJECTIONS AND ADOPTING MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
MARIANNE O. BATTANI, United States District Judge.
the Court are the Defendant Commissioner of Social
Security's objections (Dkt. 21) to Magistrate Judge
Elizabeth A. Stafford's January 25, 2018 Report and
Recommendation (“R & R”) (Dkt. 20). The R
& R recommends that the Court grant Plaintiff Karen
Denise Nichols' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 17),
deny the Defendant Commissioner's motion for summary
judgment (Dkt. 18), and remand this matter for further
administrative proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons discussed below, the
Court OVERRULES Defendant's objections
and ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's R
& R in its entirety.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
party objects to the Magistrate Judge's summary of the
background facts concerning Plaintiff's application for
Social Security benefits and her medical history.
Accordingly, the Court adopts these unchallenged portions of
the R & R.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
district court must conduct a de novo review of any
portion of a magistrate judge's R & R to which a
party objects. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The district court
“may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part,
the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate
judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The requirement of
de novo review “is a statutory recognition
that Article III of the United States Constitution mandates
that the judicial power of the United States be vested in
judges with life tenure.” United States v.
Shami, 754 F.2d 670, 672 (6th Cir. 1985). Accordingly,
Congress enacted 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) to “insure[
] that the district judge would be the final arbiter”
of matters referred to a magistrate judge. Flournoy v.
Marshall, 842 F.2d 875, 878 (6th Cir. 1988).
Court must affirm the decision of the Defendant Commissioner
so long as “it is supported by substantial evidence and
was made pursuant to proper legal standards.”
Rogers v. Commissioner of Social Security, 486 F.3d
234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007). “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 (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted). If the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence, “it must be affirmed
even if the reviewing court would decide the matter
differently, and even if substantial evidence also supports
the opposite conclusion.” Cutlip v. Secretary of
Health & Human Services, 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir.
1994) (citations omitted).
determining whether the Defendant Commissioner's factual
findings are supported by substantial evidence, the Court
confines its examination to the administrative record
considered as a whole. Wyatt v. Secretary of Health &
Human Services, 974 F.2d 680, 683 (6th Cir. 1992)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). There is no
requirement, however, that either the Commissioner or this
Court must discuss every piece of evidence in the record.
Kornecky v. Commissioner of Social Security, No.
04-2171, 167 F. App'x 496, 508 (6th Cir. Feb. 9, 2006).
Further, this 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).
Defendant's First Objection
Defendant Commissioner has lodged two objections to the R
& R. First, Defendant takes issue with the Magistrate
Judge's determination that the assessment by the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) of
Plaintiff's back impairment and resulting impact on her
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) is not
supported by substantial evidence. In arriving at this
conclusion, the Magistrate Judge observed that the ALJ's
inquiry must rest on the record as a whole rather than
“fragments of the evidence, ” and “must
take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from
[the] weight” of the evidence pointing toward a
particular outcome. (R & R at 8-9 (quoting Garner v.
Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 388 (6th Cir. 1984)).) In the
Magistrate Judge's view, the ALJ's decision here fell
short of this standard, as the ALJ cited only a small subset
of the record for the proposition that Plaintiff exhibited
“full strength bilaterally with a normal range of
motion on multiple physical exams, ” (Admin. Record at
24), while making no mention of “substantially more
evidence” in the record that reflected repeated
findings of back impairments, limitations, and abnormalities
in numerous visits to Plaintiff's treating physicians, (R
& R at 9-10).
challenging this conclusion, Defendant argues that the
Magistrate Judge improperly “transformed the ALJ's
duty to consider all of the evidence in the record
into an obligation to discuss all of the evidence of
record, ” and then “compound[ed] that
error” by recommending reversal of the ALJ's
decision “simply because some evidence
contradicted the ALJ's findings.” (Dkt. 21,
Defendant's Objections at 1-2.) As noted earlier, neither
the Commissioner nor this Court is obligated to discuss every
piece of evidence in the record, Kornecky, 167 F.
App'x at 508, and Defendant correctly observes that the
ALJ need not specifically mention a particular item of
evidence in order to demonstrate that it was considered,
see Daniels v. Commissioner of Social Security, No.
04-5709, 152 F. App'x 485, 489 (6th Cir. Oct. 24, 2005).
Moreover, Defendant rightly points out that even if the
evidence that the ALJ neglected to mention might support a
different conclusion, and even if this Court might decide the
matter differently upon independent review of the record, the
ALJ's decision nonetheless must be affirmed if it is
supported by substantial evidence. Cutlip, 25 F.3d
dispositive question here, then, is whether - as Defendant
contends - the ALJ properly considered the record as a whole
in arriving at a decision that is supported by substantial
evidence, or whether - as Plaintiff maintains and the
Magistrate Judge concluded - the ALJ impermissibly relied on
only fragments of the record that fall short of providing
substantial evidentiary support for his assessment of