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Dixon v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 13, 2019

DALE C. DIXON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS, ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION, AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          ROBERT H. CLELAND UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff appeals the denial of Social Security disability benefits. This case was referred to Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford for a report and recommendation. (ECF No. 3.) Both Plaintiff and Defendant filed motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 13, 16.) The Magistrate Judge considered these motions and issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) that recommends denying Plaintiff's motion and granting Defendant's motion, which would affirm the finding made by the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) that Plaintiff is not disabled. (EFC No. 17.) Plaintiff timely filed two objections to the R&R, and Defendant filed responses. (ECF No. 18, 19.) After reviewing the R&R and the parties' filings, the court concludes that a hearing is unnecessary. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2). For the following reasons, and the reasons explained in the R&R, the court will overrule Plaintiff's objections, grant Defendant's motion for summary judgment, and adopt the R&R in its entirety and without alteration.

         I. STANDARD

         The filing of timely objections to an R&R requires the court to “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667 (1980); United States v. Winters, 782 F.3d 289, 295 n.1 (6th Cir. 2015); United States v. Walters, 638 F.2d 947 (6th Cir. 1981). This de novo review requires the court to re-examine all the relevant evidence previously reviewed by the magistrate judge to determine whether the recommendation should be accepted, rejected, or modified in whole or in part. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         II. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff raises two objections to the R&R. First, Plaintiff challenges the Magistrate Judge's interpretation of Drummond v. Commissioner, 126 F.3d 837 (6th Cir. 1997), which addresses the issue of res judicata in the context of multiple Social Security filings. Second, Plaintiff challenges the Magistrate Judge's treatment of the opinions of Plaintiff's treating medical provider, Dr. Levi. The court will address each objection in turn.

         A. Application of Res Judicata

         Plaintiff originally filed for disability benefits in 2012, alleging April 1, 2011, as an onset date of disability. (ECF No. 9-3, PageID 119.) In that case, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled and had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work. (Id. at PageID.122-31.) Plaintiff then filed a second application for benefits in 2016, alleging June 20, 2016, as the onset date of disability. (ECF No. 9- 2, PageID 46.) In that case, the ALJ determined that she was not disabled and had the RFC to perform light work. (ECF No. 9-2, PageID 51.) This appeal followed.

         In her first objection, Plaintiff argues that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that the ALJ who reviewed Plaintiff's 2016 application was not bound by the RFC determination made by the ALJ who reviewed Plaintiff's 2012 application. This argument fails because it is based on an outdated interpretation of Drummond v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 126 F.3d 837 (6th Cir. 1997).

         The Sixth Circuit held in Drummond that “[w]hen the Commissioner has made a final decision concerning a claimant's entitlement to benefits, the Commissioner is bound by this determination absent changed circumstances.” Drummond, 126 F.3d at 842. Following this decision, the Social Security Administration issued an Acquiescence Ruling on Drummond:

When adjudicating a subsequent disability claim with an adjudicated period arising under the same title of the Act as the prior claim, adjudicators must adopt such a finding from the final decision by an ALJ or the Appeals Council on the prior claim . . . unless there is new and material evidence relating to such a finding or there had been a change in the law, regulations or ruling affecting the finding or the method for arriving at the finding.

S.S.R. 98-4(6), 1998 WL 283902 (June 1, 1998).

         In Early v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 893 F.3d 929 (6th Cir. 2018), the Sixth Circuit further clarified that “if an individual . . . files a second application for the same period of time finally rejected by the first application and offers no cognizable explanation for revisiting the first decision, res judicata would bar the second application.” Early, 893 F.3d at 933. However, the court emphasized that claims filed during different time periods are not the “same claim” for purposes of being barred by res judicata. Id. (quoting Groves v. Apfel, 148 F.3d 809, 810 (7th Cir. 1998) (“[A] claim that one became disabled in 1990 is not the same as a claim that one became disabled in 1994.”).

         Res judicata does not apply in this case. Here, Plaintiff's 2016 application for benefits relates to a different onset date of disability than her 2012 application. Additionally, Plaintiff's 2016 application contains new evidence, including the normal results of a May 2016 myocardial perfusion imaging with a stress test, an independent medical examination conducted by Dr. Bina Shaw, and descriptions of Plaintiff's ability to care for her infant grandson and other grandchildren. (ECF No. 17, PageID 1016-17; ECF No. 9-2, PageID 53.) Because Plaintiff's 2016 application pertains to a new time period of disability and contains new ...


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