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Martincic v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 9, 2019

FRANK MARTINCIC Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Thomas L. Ludington United States District Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKTS. 13, 18)

          STEPHANIE DAWKINS DAVIS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         A. Proceedings in this Court

         On May 25, 2018, plaintiff Frank Martincic filed the instant suit. (Dkt. 1). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72.1(b)(3), District Judge Thomas L. Ludington referred this matter to the undersigned to review the Commissioner's unfavorable decision that Martincic's disability ended as of August 22, 2013. (Dkt. 3). This matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Dkts. 13, 18).

         B. Administrative Proceedings

         On June 15, 2010, Martincic filed an application for period of disability and disability insurance benefits, with an amended onset date of December 31, 2009. (Tr. 109, 114).[1] Martincic's claims were initially denied; he requested a hearing and appeared with counsel on May 12, 2011 before Administrative Law Judge Jacqueline Y. Hall-Keith. (Tr. 30-60). In a decision dated May 25, 2011, ALJ Hall-Keith found Martincic disabled as of December 31, 2009. (Tr. 105-114). On August 22, 2013, the agency determined that Martincic was no longer disabled. (Tr. 15). This determination was upheld on reconsideration. Id. Martincic filed a request for hearing and appeared on March 22, 2017 with counsel before ALJ Kari Deming. (Tr. 61-104). In a decision dated August 10, 2017, ALJ Deming found that Martincic was no longer disabled as of August 22, 2013. (Tr. 12-23). Martincic requested a review of this decision and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council, on May 4, 2018, denied his request for review. (Tr. 1-7); Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 543-44 (6th Cir. 2004).

         For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the Court GRANT plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, DENY defendant's motion for summary judgment, REVERSE the findings of the Commissioner, and REMAND the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings under Sentence Four.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. ALJ Findings

         Martincic was born in 1973 and was 39 years old on the date the ALJ determined his disability ended. (Tr. 21). He has worked as a mill right (skilled, heavy) and a machine builder (skilled, medium). (Tr. 21). He graduated from high school and has some specialized vocational training, along with two years of college. (Tr. 36). Martincic lives with his three children, his parents, and his sister. (Tr. 69). He stopped working in 2009 when he was laid off, shortly before an automobile accident, although he attempted to return to work after the accident. (Tr. 39-40).

         In view of her determination that Martincic was no longer disabled as of August 22, 2013, the ALJ undertook to “determine if there has been any medical improvement in [the claimant's] impairment(s) and, if so, whether this medical improvement is related to [the claimant's] ability to work.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.994(b). The ALJ ascertains medical improvement by utilizing an eight-step sequential evaluation that largely mirrors the traditional five-step sequential disability evaluation. 20 C.F.R. § 416.994(b)(5)(i)-(viii); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(1-8). At step one, the ALJ determined that Martincic has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 22, 2013, the date his disability ended. (Tr. 17). At step two, the ALJ determined that since August 22, 2013, Martincic did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a Listing. (Tr. 17-18). At step three, the ALJ found that medical improvement had occurred as of August 22, 2013. (Tr. 18). The ALJ determined that Martincic did not have any new impairments since August 22, 2013 and thus, his severe impairments were the same as those from “comparison point decision” dated May 25, 2011: lumbar spine injury with radiculopathy, status-post motor vehicle accident. (Tr. 17). Yet, the ALJ also acknowledged that Martincic suffered from non-severe degenerative joint disease of the knees, headaches, diabetes, hypertension, and anxiety. (Tr. 17).

         Thereafter, the ALJ assessed Martincic's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), as of August 22, 2013, to perform a range of sedentary work, limited to work permitted him to:

• Sit, stand, and walk up to the exertional limits, with the opportunity to stretch or sit for 1 minute after 15 minutes in any one position;
• Optionally use a handheld assistive device whenever ambulating;
• Occasionally stoop, but never crouch, crawl, kneel or climb stairs/ramps;
• Never be exposed to extremes of temperature or humidity, or to industrial vibration or hazards;
• Never be exposed to flashing light or light of greater brightness/intensity than that found in a typical grocery store;
• Never be exposed to noise environments greater than moderate/ level 3 (business office or grocery store);
• Engage in tasks that do not involve tandem work/ production pacing (e.g., assembly line work);
• Engage in predictable work activity, defined as that with only occasional changes in the work setting or general ...

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