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Echols v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 26, 2019

BRITTNEY ECHOLS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ROBERT H. CLELAND, DISTRICT Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          MONA K. MAJZOUB, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Brittney Echols seeks judicial review of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's determination that she is not entitled to social security benefits for her physical and mental impairments under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Docket no. 1.) Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 12) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 17). Plaintiff has also filed an Answer to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket no. 18.) The motions have been referred to the undersigned for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). (Docket no. 3.) The undersigned has reviewed the pleadings, dispenses with a hearing pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f)(2), and issues this Report and Recommendation.

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 12) be DENIED and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 17) be GRANTED.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff protectively filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on September 24, 2015, alleging that she has been disabled since December 1, 2012, due to a traumatic brain injury, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, “other mental conditions, ” and back pain. (TR 15, 86-87, 166-76, 205.) The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's claims on February 29, 2016, and Plaintiff requested a de novo hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (TR 62-87, 104-05.) On April 10, 2017, Plaintiff appeared with a representative and testified at a hearing before ALJ Donald G. D'Amato. (TR 36-61.) The ALJ subsequently issued an unfavorable decision on August 22, 2017, and the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision. (TR 1-6, 15-31.) Plaintiff then commenced this action for judicial review, and the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, which are currently before the court.

         III. HEARING TESTIMONY AND MEDICAL EVIDENCE

         Plaintiff (docket no. 12 at 7-12) and the ALJ (TR 21-30) have set forth detailed, factual summaries of Plaintiff's medical record and the hearing testimony; Plaintiff's summary is primarily focused on the facts related to her headaches. Defendant adopts the facts as stated in the ALJ's decision. (Docket no. 17 at 4.) Having conducted an independent review of Plaintiff's medical record and the hearing transcript, the undersigned finds that there are no material inconsistencies between these recitations of the record. Therefore, in lieu of re-summarizing this information, the undersigned will incorporate the above-cited factual recitations by reference and will also make references and citations to the record as necessary to address the parties' arguments throughout this Report and Recommendation.

         IV. ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE'S DETERMINATION

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of December 1, 2012, and that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: history of patella fracture, liver laceration, right wrist fracture, left pneumothorax, and closed head injury secondary to motor vehicle accident in 2012; polyneuropathy; multifactorial headache etiology: migraines, tension headaches, and medication overuse headaches; patellofemoral stress syndrome, left knee; lumbago; cognitive impairment; bipolar 1 disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); ADHD, inattentive type; recurrent cannabis abuse; and history of learning disability. (TR 17-18.) Additionally, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (TR 18-20.) The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the following residual functional capacity (RFC):

[C]laimant has the residual functional capacity to perform work that is unskilled with one-, two-, or three-step instructions in an non-fast-rate production environment, defined as involving no conveyor belt or assembly line work; job responsibilities may be learned by demonstration and should require no more than occasional computer use; cannot function as a member of a discrete team and contact with coworkers and supervisors is largely superficial; cannot be in direct interactive contact with the public; requires a “low stress” environment, defined as having only occasional changes in the work setting; can lift and/or carry 5 pounds frequently and 10 pounds occasionally; can stand and/or walk with normal breaks for about 2 hours in an 8-hour workday but can do so for only 15 minutes at one time; can sit with normal breaks for about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, but can do so for only 15 minutes at one time; can perform pushing and pulling motions with the upper and lower extremities within the aforementioned weight restrictions for not more than 2/3 of an 8-hour workday; can perform activities requiring bilateral manual dexterity for both gross and fine manipulation with handling and reaching for not more than 2/3 of an 8-hour workday; needs to avoid hazards in the workplace such as moving machinery and unprotected heights . . .; needs to avoid frequent direct exposure to sunlight or frequent exposure to loud noises; job responsibilities do not include handheld power or vibrating tools; needs to be restricted to a work environment with stable temperatures, stable humidity, and good ventilation; can occasionally climb stairs with handrails, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl, but needs to avoid climbing ladders, scaffolds, and ropes; and requires work that, in addition to any regularly-scheduled breaks, allows the claimant to be off task up to 10% per 8-hour workday due to the symptoms from her impairments and/or the ancillary effects of treatment for such impairments.

         (TR 21-29.) Subsequently, in reliance on a vocational expert's (VE's) testimony, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (TR 30-31.) Therefore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act at any time from December 1, 2012, through the date of the decision. (TR 15, 31.)

         V. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. ...


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