United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
Jeff L. Scholten, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
PHILLIP J. GREEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g), 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security finding that plaintiff was
not entitled to disability insurance benefits (DIB) and
supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. Plaintiff filed
his applications for DIB and SSI benefits on March 20, 2015.
He alleged a September 29, 2014, onset of disability. (ECF
No. 7-5, PageID.252, 260). Plaintiff's claims were denied
on initial review. (ECF No. 7-4, PageID.155-71). On May 9,
2017, he received a hearing before an ALJ. (ECF No. 7-2,
PageID.57-105). The ALJ issued his decision on July 6, 2017,
finding that plaintiff was not disabled. (Op., ECF No. 7-2,
PageID.38-50). On June 12, 2018, the Appeals Council denied
review (ECF No. 7-2, PageID.29-30), rendering the ALJ's
decision the Commissioner's final decision.
timely filed a complaint seeking judicial review. Plaintiff
argues that the Commissioner's decision should be
overturned because the ALJ “failed to provide logical,
let alone ‘good' rationales for dismissing the
opinions of [p]laintiff's treating physician and the
consultative examiner, ” which plaintiff contends
contradicted the ALJ's findings regarding the residual
functional capacity. (Plf. Brief, 1, ECF No. 10,
PageID.1046). For the reasons stated herein, the
Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.
reviewing the grant or denial of social security benefits,
this Court is to determine whether the Commissioner's
findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether
the Commissioner correctly applied the law. See Elam ex
rel. Golay v. Commissioner, 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th Cir.
2003); Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir.
2001). Substantial evidence is defined as “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The scope of the
court's review is limited. Buxton, 246 F.3d at 772. The
court does not review the evidence de novo, resolve conflicts
in evidence, or make credibility determinations. See
Ulman v. Commissioner, 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir.
2012). “The findings of the Commissioner of Social
Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive[.]” 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); see McClanahan v. Commissioner, 474 F.3d
830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006). “The findings of the
Commissioner are not subject to reversal merely because there
exists in the record substantial evidence to support a
different conclusion. . . . This is so because there is a
‘zone of choice' within which the Commissioner can
act without fear of court interference.” Buxton, 246
F.3d at 772- 73; see Gayheart v. Commissioner, 710
F.3d 365, 374 (6th Cir. 2013) (“A reviewing court will
affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on
substantial evidence, even if substantial evidence would have
supported the opposite conclusion.”).
found that plaintiff met the disability insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31,
2015. (Op., 3, ECF No. 7-2, PageID.40). Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 29,
2014, the alleged onset of disability. Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: “degenerative disc
disease, osteoarthritis of the left ankle and right wrist,
hip bursitis, left rotator cuff tear, atrial fibrillation,
bradycardia, status-post dual chamber pacemaker, obstructive
sleep apnea, and obesity.” (Id. at 4,
PageID.41). Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or equaled the
requirements of a listing impairment. (Id. at 5,
PageID.42). The ALJ found that plaintiff retained the
residual functional capacity (RFC) for a range of light work
with the following exceptions:
he requires the freedom to sit for ten minutes after
standing/walking for one hour while remaining on-task and at
the workstation. He can frequently push/pull with his right
dominant upper extremity and his bilateral lower extremities.
He can occasionally push/pull with his left non-dominant
upper extremity. He can occasionally climb ramps or stairs
and he can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The
claimant can frequently balance on level surfaces. He can
occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He can
occasionally reach overhead and in all directions with his
left non-dominant upper extremity and frequently reach
overhead and in all directions with his right dominant upper
extremity. He can occasionally tolerate exposure to extreme
cold and vibration. He can never tolerate exposure to
workplace hazards such as unprotected heights and moving
mechanical parts. The claimant can never operate a commercial
motor vehicle. Due to chronic pain and side effects of
medication, he can perform simple, routine tasks.
(Id. at 6, PageID.43).
found that plaintiff's statements concerning the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms
were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and
other evidence in the record. (Id. at 7, PageID.44).
Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work.
(Id. at 11, PageID.48).
response to a hypothetical question regarding a person of
plaintiff's age with his RFC, education, and work
experience, the vocational expert (VE) testified that there
were approximately 476, 000 jobs that exist in the national
economy that he would be capable of performing. (ECF No. 7-2,
PageID.91-94). The ALJ found that this constituted a
significant number of jobs, and that plaintiff was not
disabled. (Op., 12-13, PageID.49-50).
argues that the ALJ failed to give appropriate weight to the
opinion of Bryan Kovas, M.D., under the treating physician
rule, and that the ALJ's RFC finding was contrary to the
opinions of Joseph Bechard, M.D., a consultative examiner.
(Plf. Brief, 14-20, ECF No. 10, PageID.1059-65; Reply Brief,
1-5, ECF No. 17, PageID.1090-94).
the medical opinions of treating physicians are given
substantial, if not controlling weight. See Johnson v.
Commissioner, 652 F.3d 646, 651 (6th Cir. 2011).
“[T]he opinion of a treating physician does not receive
controlling weight merely by virtue of the fact that it is
from a treating physician. Rather, it is accorded controlling
weight where it is ‘well supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques'
and is not ‘inconsistent ... with the other substantial
evidence in the case record.' ” Massey v.
Commissioner, 409 Fed.Appx. 917, 921 (6th Cir. 2011)
(quoting Blakley v. Commissioner, 581 F.3d 399, 406
(6th Cir. 2009)).
ALJ is not bound by conclusory statements of doctors,
particularly where they are unsupported by detailed objective
criteria and documentation.” Buxton v. Halter,
246 F.3d at 773 (citation and quotation omitted). An opinion
that is based on the claimant's reporting of his symptoms
is not entitled to controlling weight. See Young v.
Secretary of Health & Human Servs.,925 F.2d 146,
151 (6th Cir. 1990); see also Kepke v. Commissioner,636 Fed.Appx. 625, 629 (6th Cir. 2016) (“[A] a doctor
cannot simply report what his patient says and re-package it
as an opinion.”); Francis v. Commissioner, 414
Fed.Appx. 802, 804 ...