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Webster v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

July 16, 2019

BRITTANY WEBSTER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          PAUL D. BORMAN JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO DENY PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DE 10), GRANT DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DE 11) AND AFFIRM THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          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 summary judgment or remand (DE 10), GRANT Defendant's motion for summary judgment (DE 11), and AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

         II. REPORT

         Plaintiff, Brittany Webster, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. This matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation on Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment or remand (DE 10), the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment (DE 11), and the administrative record (DE 8).

         A. Background and Administrative History

         In her August 28, 2015 application, Plaintiff alleges her disability began on April 1, 2009, at the age of 19. (R. at 181, 203.)[1] In her disability report, she lists several conditions (e.g., blood clot disorders, 3 slipped discs in the lumbar spine, May-Thurner Syndrome, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, sterility, anxiety, depression, difficulty ambulating, Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome, Non-Huntington's Chorea, Neurocardiogenic Syncope, sleep apnea, chronic abdominal pain, Coumadin skin necrosis, heparin-induced thrombocytopenia) as limiting her ability to work. (R. at 207.) Her application was denied on February 17, 2016. (R. at 87-102.)

         Plaintiff requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. at 124.) On July 3, 2017, ALJ Patricia Carey held a hearing, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE), Charles H. McBee, testified. (R. at 32-86; see also R. at 254-256.) On December 28, 2017, ALJ Carey issued an opinion, which determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. at 8-31.)

         Plaintiff submitted a request for review of the hearing decision/order. (R. at 178-180.) However, on April 19, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 1-5.) Thus, ALJ Carey's decision became the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff timely commenced the instant action on May 30, 2018.

         B. Plaintiff's Medical History

         The administrative record contains approximately 1, 423 pages of medical records, which were available to the ALJ at the time of her December 28, 2017 decision. (R. at 29-31, 267-1689 [Exhibits 1F-20F].) These materials will be discussed in detail, as necessary, below.

         C. The Administrative Decision

         Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4), at Step 1 of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 28, 2015, the application date. (R. at 13.) At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: May-Thurner syndrome; thoracic outlet syndrome; obstructive sleep apnea (OSA); lumbar spine degenerative disc disease (DDD); deep vein thrombosis (DVT); neurocardiogenic syncope; hypercoaguable state; anxiety; and depression. (Id. at 13-14.) At Step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Id. at 14-17.) Between Steps 3 and 4 of the sequential process, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[2] and determined that Plaintiff had the RFC:

. . . to perform sedentary work . . . [i.e., exertional limitations][, ] except she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, never climb ladders ropes or scaffolds, and can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl [i.e., postural limitations]. She can occasionally reach overhead with the right upper extremity, and can frequently handle, finger and feel with the right upper extremity [i.e., manipulative limitations]. She can never work around hazards, such as unprotected heights or moving dangerous mechanical parts, [and] she can occasionally operate a motor vehicle [i.e., environmental limitations]. She is also limited to performing simple, routine and repetitive tasks, but not at a production rate pace, for example, no assembly line work. She is limited to occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the general public [i.e., mental health limitations]. She can elevate her left leg six inches at the workstation and she is to be able to use a walker or a wheelchair to ambulate to the workstation.

(Id. at 17-24.) At Step 4, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (Id. at 24.) At Step 5, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, such as address clerk, document preparer, and surveillance monitor. (Id. at 24-25.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since October 28, 2015, the date the application was filed. (Id. at 25.)

         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)). 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.”).

         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 (quoting Key v. Callahan, 109 F.3d 270, 273 (6th Cir. 1997)). 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 contends that the ALJ “failed to obtain an expert medical opinion regarding medical equivalency of Listing 7.18[.]” (DE 10 at 11-15 (emphases added).) The Commissioner contends that “[s]ubstantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that ...


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