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Nowicki v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 16, 2019

ROBERT NOWICKI, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [#15] TO GRANT PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [#12], TO DENY DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [#13], AND REMANDING MATTER FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

          DENISE PAGE HOOD, CHIEF JUDGE

         I. BACKGROUND

         This matter is before the Court on a Report and Recommendation (Doc # 15) filed by Magistrate Judge Patricia T. Morris to grant the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff Robert Nowicki (“Nowicki”) (Doc # 12) and to deny the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) (Doc # 13). The Commissioner has timely filed two objections to the Report and Recommendation. (Doc # 16) Having conducted a de novo review of the parts of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation to which valid objections have been filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court ACCEPTS and ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation, GRANTS Nowicki's Motion for Summary Judgment, DENIES the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment, and REMANDS this case for further consideration.

         The background facts of this matter are adequately set forth in the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, and the Court adopts them here.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         The standard of review by the district court when examining a Report and Recommendation is set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 636. This Court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or the specified proposed findings or recommendations to which an objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” Id. In order to preserve the right to appeal the magistrate judge's recommendation, a party must file objections to the Report and Recommendation within fourteen (14) days of service of the Report and Recommendation. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2). Failure to file specific objections constitutes a waiver of any further right of appeal. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 155 (1985); Howard v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 508-09 (6th Cir. 1991); United States v. Walters, 638 F.2d 947, 949-50 (6th Cir. 1981).

         B. The Commissioner's Objections

         1. First Objection

         The Commissioner first claims that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) step 3 analysis was not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, the Commissioner alleges that Nowicki could not have possibly met Listings of Impairment 12.04 or 12.06. The Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge and finds that the issue of whether there was any evidence of Listings of Impairment 12.04 or 12.06 should be remanded for a proper determination by the ALJ.

         A “disability” is the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner determines whether a claimant is disabled by analyzing five sequential steps. The third step that is at issue requires a determination of whether the claimant's severe impairments meet or equal the criteria of an impairment set forth in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).

         The ALJ initially determined that listings 12.04 and 12.06 were not met because there was supposedly no evidence showing that paragraphs B or C were satisfied. See 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1, 12.00(G)(1). The Magistrate Judge found that there was substantial evidence to support a finding that paragraph C could have been met. The Magistrate Judge specifically referred to Dr. Peter Trent Smith's mental progress notes and Nowicki's three psychiatric hospitalizations in 2016 that occurred within a span of three months. Due to that evidence, the Magistrate Judge ruled that Nowicki's case should be remanded to the ALJ to further grapple with that evidence.[1] (Doc # 15, Pg ID 1135)

         The Commissioner argues that the Court should concur with the ALJ's decision since courts have ruled that remand is not required when the ALJ “made sufficient factual findings elsewhere in his decision to support his conclusions at step three.” See, e.g., Forrest v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 591 Fed.Appx. 359, 365-66 (6th Cir. 2014). Although the Commissioner's cited case law is accurate, the Court finds that the standard referred to by the Commissioner has not been met because the ALJ failed to sufficiently make factual findings elsewhere in his decision to support his conclusion. The ALJ did acknowledge that Nowicki was hospitalized on several occasions in 2016, but did not explain why those hospitalizations-in conjunction with other facts-are inadequate for purposes of proving that Paragraph C has been satisfied. Therefore, the Court finds that the Magistrate Judge was correct, and the ALJ provided insufficient reasoning for his determination that Nowicki did not meet step 3. This issue will consequently be remanded to the ALJ for a more in-depth analysis of the merits of whether Nowicki satisfies step 3.

         The Magistrate Judge does not address in her Report and Recommendation which type of remand applies, so the Court will do so now. The Supreme Court recognizes only two kinds of remands involving social security cases-those pursuant to sentence four and those pursuant to sentence six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 99 (1991); Sullivan v. Finkelstein, 496 U.S. 617, 626 (1990). The Supreme Court concluded that Congress's explicit delineation in ยง 405(g) regarding circumstances under which remands are authorized clearly ...


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