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Barnhart v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 22, 2019

MICHAEL MARTIN BARNHART, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

         ORDER (1) OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS (ECF #24) TO THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION (ECF #23), (2) ADOPTING THE DISPOSITION RECOMMENDED BY THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE, (3) GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF #21), AND (4) DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF #16)

          MATTHEW F. LEITMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this action, Plaintiff Michael Martin Barnhart challenges the denial of his application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) due to disability. (See Compl., ECF #1.) Both parties have moved for summary judgment. (See Motions, ECF ##16, 21.) On June 24, 2019, the assigned Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which she recommends that the Court grant the Commissioner of Social Security's motion and deny Barnhart's motion (the “R&R, ” ECF #23). Barnhart has now filed timely objections to the R&R (the “Objections”). (See Objections, ECF #24). For the reasons explained below, the Court OVERRULES the Objections, ADOPTS the disposition recommended by the Magistrate Judge, GRANTS the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment (ECF #21), and DENIES Barnhart's motion for summary judgment (ECF #16).

         I

         A

         The issue Barnhart raises in the Objections is straightforward and does not require a detailed discussion of the factual or procedural background of this action. The essential background is as follows.

         In the social security disability benefits context, the term “date last insured” means “the date on which [a claimant] ceased to be covered by social security disability insurance.” Williams v. Colvin, 757 F.3d 610, 615 (7th Cir. 2014). In this case, Barnhart's date last insured was December 31, 2013. Thus, in order to establish his entitlement to disability benefits, Barnhart must show that he was disabled as of December 31, 2013.

         Barnhart claims that as of December 31, 2013, he had several medically determinable impairments, including fibromyalgia, and that these impairments rendered him disabled. To support that contention during the administrative proceedings in this action, Barnhart offered, among other evidence, a disability statement completed by Dr. James Teener, one of Barnhart's treating physicians. (See Teener Statement, ECF #10-16 at Pg. ID 602-06.) In that statement, Dr. Teener opined that Barnhart suffered from a number of symptoms consistent with fibromyalgia before December 31, 2013. Barnhart contends that Dr. Teener's statement, when considered in conjunction with the other evidence in the record, established that Barnhart suffered from fibromyalgia prior to December 31, 2013.

         The Administrative Law Judge who presided over Barnhart's evidentiary hearing (the “ALJ”) disagreed. The ALJ determined that while Barnhart had a number of medically-determinable impairments before December 31, 2013, fibromyalgia was not one of those impairments.

         In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ assigned no weight to Dr. Teener's opinion. The ALJ found Dr. Teener's statement unpersuasive as to whether Barnhart suffered from fibromyalgia prior to December 31, 2013, because the statement (1) lacked a firm diagnosis of fibromyalgia and (2) failed to explain how Dr. Teener, who did not begin treating Barnhart until 2015, had a basis to opine as to Barnhart's symptoms and condition prior to December 31, 2013. (See ALJ Decision, ECF #10-2 at Pg. ID 49.) The ALJ assessed Dr. Teener's statement as follows:

Dr. Teener's recent statement that the claimant was disabled from fatigue, myofascial pain, arthralgias, and medication side effects, is not entitled to any weight. This doctor did not start seeing the claimant until 2015, long after his insured status had expired, and he was not even sure if the claimant met the diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia. This assessment does not give a firm diagnosis and is well after 2013. It appears to have been generated in an effort to bolster the claimant's case, and the undersigned discounts it accordingly.

(See ALJ Decision, ECF #10-2 at Pg. ID 49.)

         The ALJ ultimately concluded that Barnhart was not disabled because even though Barnhart could not perform his past work as a security guard, he could perform several other jobs in the national economy that involved a ...


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