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Sadler v. Saul

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

September 19, 2019




         On August 16, 2019, Magistrate Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis issued a report and recommendation in this action for social security disability insurance benefits. Magistrate Judge Davis recommends that the court deny Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, grant the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment, and affirm the Commissioner’s decision. Plaintiff, William Joseph Sadler, filed objections to the report and recommendation, to which the Commissioner has responded.


         With 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.” Id.

         When 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).


         Plaintiff’s application for social security disability benefits was denied after a hearing before an administrative law judge, which became the final decision of the Commissioner. The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spine; right shoulder degenerative joint disease and rotator cuff tear; irritable bowel syndrome; osteoporosis; osteoarthritis; a depressive disorder; “NOS”; and cannabis dependence.

         The ALJ concluded that although Plaintiff could not return to his past relevant work as an automobile mechanic and welder, he had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, with certain restrictions. Magistrate Judge Davis, upon review of the record and the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment, recommends that the court affirm the Commissioner’s decision. Plaintiff raises several objections to the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation.

         I. Objection 1

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by adopting a previously determined RFC and by not discussing the functional impairments caused by his osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. The magistrate judge correctly found that the ALJ did not blindly adopt the previous RFC, but gave the evidence a “fresh look.” See ECF No. 10-2 at PageID 60 (“[A]ll of the new evidence has been considered in evaluating the claimant’s residual functional capacity since the alleged onset date.”); ECF No. 18 at PageID 727-30. See also Earley v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 893 F.3d 929, 931 (6th Cir. 2018); Kamphaus v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 2018 WL 3800243 at *5 (E.D. Mich. Jul. 23, 2018) (no error in adopting previous RFC when ALJ considered new evidence).

         As for Plaintiff’s osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, he has not pointed to evidence that these impairments have caused any additional functional limitations. See Griffeth v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 217 Fed.Appx. 425, 429 (6th Cir. 2007) (“A claimant’s severe impairment may or may not affect his or her functional capacity to work. One does not necessarily establish the other.”) (citation omitted). Although Plaintiff suggests that the ALJ must explain “how he determined that Plaintiff’s new severe impairments would not result in any additional functional limitations, ” it is Plaintiff’s burden to establish his RFC. Jordan v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 548 F.3d 417, 423 (6th Cir. 2008) (claimant “retains the burden of proving her lack of residual functional capacity”). Plaintiff has not demonstrated additional functional limitations as a result of his osteoarthritis or osteoporosis; accordingly, the ALJ and magistrate judge did not err in this regard.

         Plaintiff further argues that the ALJ improperly relied on Plaintiff’s daily activities in formulating the RFC and did not account for the limitations to which Plaintiff testified. The ALJ found that Plaintiff’s “statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of [his] symptoms are not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record.” ECF No. 10-2 at PageID 62. Plaintiff does not challenge this credibility determination. Moreover, the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff’s daily activities in evaluating his subjective complaints and RFC. Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 392 (6th Cir. 2004) (“The administrative law judge justifiably considered Warner’s ability to conduct daily life activities in the face of his claim of disabling pain.”). In sum, Plaintiff has not demonstrated that the ALJ failed to consider new evidence or otherwise erred in determining his RFC.

         II. Objection 2

         Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ erred in determining his RFC because the ALJ did not obtain a medical opinion. However, the Sixth Circuit has repeatedly held that an ALJ is not required to base the RFC on a physician’s opinion, because to do so “would, in effect, confer upon the treating source the authority to make the determination or decision about whether an individual is under a disability, and thus would be an abdication of the Commissioner’s statutory responsibility to determine whether an individual is disabled.” Rudd v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 531 Fed.Appx. 719, 728 (6th Cir. 2013). See also Tucker v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 775 Fed.Appx. 220, 226 (6th Cir. 2019) (“No bright-line rule exists in our circuit directing that ...

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