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Hight v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 21, 2019

DEMARIO G. HIGHT, Plaintiff,


          STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III United States District Judge.

         The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied the application of DeMario G. Hight ("Hight") for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits in a decision issued by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). ECF 9-2, PgID 38-48. After the SSA Appeals Council declined to review the ruling, Hight appealed. ECF 1. The Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Patricia T. Morris and the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF 3, 12, 14. The magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation ("Report") advising the Court to deny Hight's motion and grant the Commissioner's motion. ECF 16. Hight filed timely objections to the Report. ECF 17. After examining the record and considering Hight's objections de novo, the Court concludes that his arguments lack merit. Accordingly, the Court will adopt the Report's findings, deny Hight's motion for summary judgment, grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment, and dismiss the complaint.


         The Report properly details the events giving rise to Hight's action against the Commissioner. ECF 16, PgID 672-73, 675-83. The Court will adopt that portion of the Report. Critically, Hight's objections all relate to "whether the ALJ should have considered a medical source opinion from Dr. Andrew Thomas, his treating physician, that was submitted" after the hearing but before the ALJ issued his decision. Id. at 679. Hight's counsel had written a letter to the ALJ a week before the administrative hearing stating that she was "still awaiting records/evidence from Dr. Andrew Thomas." Id.


         Civil Rule 72(b) governs the review of a magistrate judge's report. A district court's standard of review depends upon whether a party files objections. The Court need not undertake any review of portions of a Report to which no party has objected. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149-50 (1985). De novo review is required, however, if the parties "serve and file specific written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2). In conducting a de novo review, "[t]he district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

         Individuals who receive an adverse final decision from the Commissioner of Social Security may appeal the decision to a federal district court. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). When reviewing a case under § 405(g), the Court "must affirm the Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standards or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record." Longworth v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence consists of "more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance" such that a "reasonable mind might accept [the evidence] as adequate to support a conclusion." Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (quotations omitted). An ALJ may consider the entire body of evidence without directly addressing each piece in his decision. Kornecky v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 167 Fed.Appx. 496, 508 (6th Cir. 2006). "Nor must an ALJ make explicit credibility findings as to each bit of conflicting testimony, so long as his factual findings as a whole show that he implicitly resolved such conflicts." Id. (citation omitted).


         Hight raises three objections. The Court will first provide a brief overview of the legal framework governing the submission of evidence for social security proceedings. Then, the Court will address each of Hight's objections in turn.

         I. Legal Framework

         During a social security proceeding before an ALJ, the parties submit evidence for review. "Each party must make every effort to ensure that the administrative law judge receives all of the evidence and must inform [the Commissioner] about or submit any written evidence . . . no later than 5 business days before the date of the scheduled hearing"-the so-called "5-day Rule." 20 C.F.R. § 416.1435(a). If a claimant does not comply with the 5-day Rule, "the administrative law judge may decline to consider or obtain the evidence" unless an exception applies. Id.

         Two exceptions excusing the failure to timely submit evidence are relevant here. First, the ALJ will excuse a tardy submission if the claimant "actively and diligently sought evidence from a source and the evidence was not received or was received less than 5 business days prior to the hearing." 20 C.F.R. § 416.1435(b)(3)(iv). Second, the ALJ will excuse failure to comply with the 5-day Rule if the Commissioner's actions misled the claimant ("misleading-action exception"). 20 C.F.R. § 416.1435(b)(1).

         11. Objection 1

         First, Hight objects that the Report erred in finding that "Plaintiff did not properly inform the ALJ" about a letter from Dr. Thomas, who treated Plaintiff. ECF 17, PgID 709. One week before the hearing, Hight sent a letter to the ALJ and advised that he was "still awaiting records/evidence from Dr. Andrew Thomas, [his] current primary care provider." ECF 9-6, PgID 274. Then, during the hearing, Hight reiterated that he was waiting for records from Dr. Thomas. ECF 9-2, PgID 84-85. Shortly after the hearing, Hight "submitted medical records from Dr. Thomas." ECF 12, PgID 629. ...

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