United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
SONIA I. RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
Elizabeth A. Stafford, Judge
ORDER ADOPTING MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
RECOMMENDATION (ECF NO. 19)
CARAM STEEH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
23, 2019, Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford issued a
report and recommendation in this action for social security
disability benefits. Magistrate Judge Stafford recommends
that the court grant Plaintiff's motion for summary
judgment, deny the Commissioner's motion for summary
judgment, and remand this matter to the ALJ for further
consideration under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
The Commissioner submitted objections to the report and
recommendation, which the court addresses below.
respect to reports and recommendations from magistrate
judges, this court “shall make a de novo determination
of those portions of the report or specified proposed
findings or recommendations to which 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.”
reviewing a case under the Social Security Act, the district
court may affirm, modify, or reverse the Commissioner's
decision, with or without remand. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Findings of fact by the Commissioner are
conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. Id.
The court “must affirm the Commissioner's decision
if it ‘is supported by substantial evidence and was
made pursuant to proper legal standards.'”
Rabbers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647,
651 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). “The
substantial-evidence standard is met if a ‘reasonable
mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” Blakley v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir. 2009)
(citation omitted). “When deciding under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's decision, we do not try the case de novo, resolve
conflicts in evidence, or decide questions of
credibility.” Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506,
509 (6th Cir. 2007).
concluded that Plaintiff Sonia Rodriguez was not disabled
during the relevant time period. In evaluating
Rodriguez's disability claim, the ALJ found that she has
the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, chronic
regional pain syndrome, degenerative disc disease,
osteoarthritis, obesity, disorder of the urinary tract, and
affective disorder. ECF No. 7-2, PageID.41. The ALJ noted
that Rodriguez “spends her days alternating from
sitting to lying down to standing secondary to pain. . . .
With respect to daily activities, [she] reported that her
impairments affect her ability to perform personal care tasks
including bathing and dressing. . . . She is able to prepare
simple meals but not able to perform household chores.”
Id. at PageID.46.
determined that Rodriguez could perform light work, with some
limitations. In making this determination, the ALJ found that
“the claimant's statements concerning the
intensity, persistence and limiting effects of [her] symptoms
are not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and
other evidence in the record.” Id. at
PageID.46. Rodriguez challenges this conclusion, arguing that
the ALJ failed to clearly articulate his reasons for
discrediting her subjective complaints and that he placed
undue emphasis on the lack of objective evidence, which
misapprehends the nature of fibromyalgia. The magistrate
judge agreed, noting that the ALJ “failed to explain
sufficiently which statements he credited, which statements
he discredited, and the inconsistencies between the record
and Rodriguez's statements. . . . [T]he ALJ's
emphasis on Rodriguez's normal muscle strength, range of
motion, and neurological function and sensation, leaves the
impression that he placed undue weight on those irrelevant
findings.” ECF No. 19, PageID.1206. The magistrate
judge reviewed the legal standards involving credibility
determinations and fibromyalgia, noting that fibromyalgia
patients “characteristically ‘manifest normal
muscle strength and neurological reactions.'”
Id. at PageID.1205 (quoting Preston v. Sec'y
of Health and Human Servs., 854 F.2d 815, 820 (6th Cir.
1988)). Magistrate Judge Stafford concluded that the
ALJ's sole reliance on a lack of objective evidence to
discount Rodriguez's symptoms “reflects a
fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of
fibromyalgia.” Id. (quoting Kalmbach v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 409 Fed.Appx. 852, 861 (6th
Cir. 2011)). In addition, “the ALJ's failure to
explain why Rodriguez's claims are inconsistent with the
record - given her diagnosis of fibromyalgia - means that his
subjective symptom analysis precludes meaningful
review.” Id. at PageID.1206 (citing Gross
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 247 F.Supp.3d 824, 829-30
(E.D. Mich. 2017)).
Commissioner objects to the magistrate judge's finding
that the ALJ erred in his analysis of Rodriguez's
fibromyalgia symptoms, arguing that the law does preclude
reliance upon objective findings in fibromyalgia cases.
However, the Sixth Circuit has made clear that a lack of
objective evidence, in itself, is not particularly helpful in
assessing the existence or severity of fibromyalgia.
Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234,
243-44 (6th Cir. 2007) (“[I]n light of the unique
evidentiary difficulties associated with the diagnosis and
treatment of fibromyalgia, opinions that focus solely upon
objective evidence are not particularly relevant.”).
The magistrate judge did not err in her determination that
the ALJ failed to adequately support his analysis of
Rodriguez's fibromyalgia symptoms.
Commissioner also argues that any error the ALJ made in
assessing Rodriguez's fibromyalgia was mitigated by the
ALJ's reliance on the opinion of Dr. Nguyen, who
considered Rodriguez's fibromyalgia before concluding she
could engage in light work. This argument was not presented
to the magistrate judge. See ECF No. 17.
“[A]bsent compelling reasons, [the Magistrate Judge
Act] does not allow parties to raise at the district court
stage new arguments or issues that were not presented to the
magistrate.” Murr v. United States, 200 F.3d
895, 902 n.1 (6th Cir. 2000).
court agrees with Magistrate Judge Stafford's thorough
and well-reasoned analysis. Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED
that the report and recommendation (ECF No. 19) is ACCEPTED
and ADOPTED as the order of the court.
FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's motion for summary
judgment (ECF No. 11) is GRANTED, the Commissioner's
motion (ECF No. 17) is DENIED, the Commissioner's
objection (ECF No. 21) is OVERRULED, and this matter is