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Pike v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 23, 2019

HEATHER L. PIKE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER OVERRULING IN PART and SUSTAINING IN PART OBJECTIONS [15], ADOPTING IN PART AND REJECTING IN PART REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [14], GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT OR REMAND [12], AND DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [13]

          STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Heather Pike's application for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits in a decision issued by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). After the SSA Appeals Council declined to review the ruling, Pike appealed. ECF 1. The Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis, and the parties cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF 3, 12, 13. The magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation ("Report") advising the Court to deny Pike's motion and grant the Commissioner's motion. ECF 14. Pike filed timely objections to the Report. ECF 15. After examining the record and considering Pike's objections de novo, the Court will deny her first objection but sustain her second objection. The Court will therefore adopt in part and reject in part the Report, deny the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment, grant Pike's motion for summary judgment or remand, and remand the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         The Report properly details the events giving rise to Pike's action against the Commissioner. ECF 14, PgID 620–21. The Court will adopt that portion of the Report.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Individuals who receive an adverse final decision from the Commissioner 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." Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). "Substantial evidence is 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." Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). An ALJ may consider the entire body of evidence without directly addressing each piece in his decision. Loral Def. Sys.–Akron v. N.L.R.B., 200 F.3d 436, 453 (6th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). "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. (internal quotations and citation omitted) (alteration omitted).

         Civil Rule 72(b) governs the review of a magistrate judge's report. A district court's standard of review depends on 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, the Court "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).

         DISCUSSION

         Pike raises two objections. The Court will address each in turn.

         I. Objection

         1 First, Pike objects to the magistrate judge's determination that the ALJ properly found that she could perform sedentary jobs. ECF 15, PgID 646–50. Pike largely rehashes her summary judgment argument. Compare Id. with ECF 12, PgID 589–91. "Objections that are merely recitations of the identical arguments that were before the magistrate judge do not constitute specific written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations, " and the Court is therefore "not obligated to address" such objections. England v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 15-12818, 2016 WL 5939288, at *3 (E.D. Mich. Oct. 13, 2016) (internal quotations and citations omitted). To the extent that Pike's objection mirrors her summary judgment argument, the Court will not address it.

         Pike briefly raises what appears to be a new argument that the magistrate judge applied the incorrect legal standard, but her argument is unfounded. Contrary to Pike's assertion, ECF 15, PgID 647, the ALJ did not find non-exertional limitations. See ECF 9-2, PgID 53 (ALJ decision, finding "that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of unskilled sedentary work"). Pike's reliance on the hypotheticals that the ALJ posed to the vocational expert is misplaced. See ECF 15, PgID 647–48. The ALJ did not ultimately determine that Pike suffers from the non-exertional limitations included in her hypothetical. The ALJ therefore did not err in relying on the grids, and the magistrate judge in turn did not apply the wrong legal standard by relying on Morris v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 1:13-cv-01048-STA-cgc, 2017 WL 2191668 (W.D. Tenn. May 18, 2017). As the magistrate judge noted, "all jobs under the grids are unskilled, " so a limitation that a plaintiff can perform only unskilled work does not affect that plaintiff's "ability to perform the full range of sedentary work." ECF 14, PgID 628 (quoting Morris, 2017 WL 2191668, at *6). And the grid rules for sedentary work "satisf[y] the Commissioner's burden of showing that work exists in significant No. in the national economy which [Pike] can perform." Morris, 2017 WL 2191668, at *6. The Court will therefore overrule Pike's first objection.

         II. Objection 2

         Second, Pike objects to the magistrate judge's conclusion that the ALJ did not err in giving only limited weight to the opinion of Pike's treating physician, Dr. Richter. ECF 15, PgID 650–52. Pike again largely rehashes her summary judgment argument. Compare Id. with ECF 12, PgID 591–94. But Pike does pose two specific objections to the magistrate judge's treatment of her initial argument. First, Pike takes issue with the magistrate judge's factual determination, arguing that, contrary to the magistrate judge's finding, Pike did discuss her vertigo symptoms with Dr. Walford. ECF 15, PgID 651. Second, Pike contends that the magistrate judge's legal conclusion that ...


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