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MaCiag v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

July 31, 2019

JANICE RENAE MACIAG, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          AVERN COHN, DISTRICT JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO DENY PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DE 13), GRANT DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DE 14) 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 (DE 13), GRANT Defendant's motion for summary judgment (DE 14), and AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

         II. REPORT

         Plaintiff, Janice Renae Maciag, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her applications for disability insurance (DI) and 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 (DE 13), the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment (DE 14), and the administrative record (DE 10).

         A. Background and Administrative History

         Plaintiff alleges her disability began on February 21, 2015, at the age of 43. (R. at 199, 197.)[1] In her disability report, she lists several conditions (heart disease, multiple heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and sleep apnea) as limiting her ability to work. (R. at 216.) Her applications for DI and SSI benefits were denied in March 24, 2016. (R. at 98-147.)

         Plaintiff requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. at 151-152.) On February 15, 2017, ALJ Allison Dietz held a hearing, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE), James Lozer, Ed.D. testified. (R. at 36-97, 260.) On May 22, 2017, ALJ Dietz issued an opinion, which determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. at 17-35.)

         Plaintiff submitted a request for review of the hearing decision/order. (R. at 190-192.) However, on March 23, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 1-7.) Thus, ALJ Dietz's decision became the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff timely commenced the instant action on May 16, 2018.

         B. Plaintiff's Medical History

         The administrative record contains approximately 486 pages of medical records, which were available to the ALJ at the time of her May 22, 2017 decision. (R. at 268-753 [Exhibits 1F-15F].) 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 February 21, 2015, the alleged onset date (AOD). (R. at 22.) At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease (CAD), sleep apnea, depression, anxiety, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), major joint dysfunction, and disorders of the spine. (Id. at 22-23.) 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 23-25.) 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, with various other postural, manipulative, environmental, and mental health limitations. (Id. at 25-28.) At Step 4, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 28-29.) 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 a surveillance system monitor and an order clerk. (Id. at 30-31.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from February 21, 2015, through the date of the decision. (Id. at 31.)

         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 erred in her consideration of the opinion evidence and in her credibility assessment. (DE 13 at 8-12.)[3] The Commissioner contends that the ALJ properly assessed Plaintiff's RFC and subjective complaints. (DE 14 at 5-15.)

         1. Opinion evidence

         In her review of the opinion evidence, the ALJ assigned: (a) “limited weight” to the physical RFC assessment of state agency medical consultant Robin Mika, D.O. (R. at 108-111, 124-127); (b) “some weight” to the mental RFC assessment of state agency psychological consultant Rom Kriauciunas, Ph.D. (R. at 111-113, 127-129); (c) “great weight” to the consultative examination report of Hugh D. Bray, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist (R. at 587-592); and, (d) “partial weight” to the medical source statement (MSS) of John Slaim, D.O., which was also signed by Michelle Dolson, ANP-BC (Adult Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified). (R. at 748-751). (R. at 27-28.)

         a. Physical RFC

         i. Discounting Dolson's / Dr. John Slaim's MSS

         Plaintiff treated with the Slaim Office -- Michelle Dolson, ANP-BC, John Slaim, D.O., Abraham Slaim, D.O. -- as early as April 23, 2013. (See R. at 303-378 [Ex. 2F], 560-573 [Ex. 5F], 593-615 [Ex. 9F], 635-736 [Ex. 12F]). The ALJ cited many of these exhibits in her review of Plaintiff's musculoskeletal impairments, diabetes, CAD and sleep apnea. (R. at 26-27.) As to musculoskeletal impairments, the ALJ noted, inter alia:

However, despite these complaints, examination notes showed she was negative for joint pain, stiffness, muscle pain, tenderness, edema, or weakness (EX. 1F/29; 2F/10; 4F/20, 28; 88, 97 [R. at 296, 312, 401, 409, 469, 478]). The claimant generally had normal strength, sensation, range of motion and reflexes throughout her body (EX. 4F/25, 29, 88 [R. at 406, 410, 469]).

(R. at 26.)

         Then, in assigning “partial weight” to the functional limitations set forth in Dolson's / Dr. John Slaim's January 16, 2017 MSS, the ALJ explained:

While the claimant would be limited to a range of sedentary work, there is no evidence that the claimant is limited to this degree. Her examination notes showed she was negative for joint pain, stiffness, muscle pain, tenderness, edema, or weakness. The claimant generally had normal strength, sensation, range of motion and reflexes throughout.

(R. at 28, 750.) In other words, the ALJ discounted Dr. Slaim's functional limitations on the basis of the supportability and/or consistency factors. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(3), (4), 416.927(c)(3), (4).

         Plaintiff takes issue with the ALJ's assignment of “only ‘partial weight' to the treating doctor, Dr. John Slaim.” (DE 13 at 8.) Plaintiff argues that “Dr. laim's records for over five years of consistent treatment, do support such finds and such limitations.” (DE 13 at 9.) Ultimately arguing ...


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