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Bjornson v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 25, 2019

Cynthia Jean Bjornson, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Elizabeth A. Stafford U.S. Magistrate Judge.

          ORDER ADOPTING REPORT & RECOMMENDATION [12]; OVERRULING PLAINTIFF’S OBJECTIONS [16]; DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [9]; AND GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [11]

          Arthur J. Tarnow Senior U.S. District Judge.

         Plaintiff, Cynthia Jean Bjornson, applied for disability insurance benefits from the Social Security Administration on February 17, 2016. She alleged that she had been disabled since November 30, 2015. Her claims were denied, and she then requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The hearing was held on November 1, 2017, in Oak Park, Michigan, before ALJ Patricia S. McKay. On May 8, 2018, the ALJ issued an opinion denying Plaintiff’s claims. [Dkt. # 7-2]. The Appeals Council denied her request for review on August 14, 2018. Plaintiff timely filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 405 on September 6, 2018. [Dkt. # 1].

         Plaintiff’s case was assigned to Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford for determination of non-dispositive motions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and issuance of a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) & (C). [Dkt. # 3]. Plaintiff filed her Motion for Summary Judgment [9] on December 10, 2018. Defendant filed his Motion for Summary Judgment [11] on January 14, 2019. On July 31, 2019, the Magistrate Judge issued an R&R [12] recommending that Defendant’s motion be granted, and Plaintiff’s motion be denied. Plaintiff filed timely Objections [16] on August 19, 2019. Defendant filed his Response [17] on August 30, 2019.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court OVERRULES the Plaintiff’s Objections [16] and ADOPTS the R&R [12]. Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment [9] is DENIED. Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [11] is GRANTED.

         Factual Background

         The Magistrate Judge summarized the factual background of Plaintiff’s alleged disability and claim as follows:

A. Bjornson’s Background and Disability Application
Born July 24, 1959, Bjornson was 56 years old when she submitted her application for disability benefits in February 2016. [ECF No. 7-5, Tr. 158]. She has past relevant work experience as an elementary school teacher. [ECF No. 7-2, Tr. 24]. Bjornson alleged a disability onset date of November 30, 2015. [ECF No. 7-2, Tr. 17, 38]. She claims to be disabled because of stage III breast cancer[1], physical complication from cancer treatment, cognitive complications from cancer treatment, fatigue, nausea and depression. [ECF No. 7-3, Tr. 70]. Bjornson’s last insured date was December 31, 2019. [ECF No. 7-6, Tr. 175].
After a hearing on November 1, 2017, during which Bjornson and a vocational expert (VE) testified, the ALJ found that Bjornson was not disabled. [ECF No. 7-2, Tr. 25, 30-68]. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. [Id., Tr. 1-3]. Bjornson timely filed for judicial review. [ECF No. 1].
B. The ALJ’s Application of the Disability Framework Analysis
A “disability” is the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
The Commissioner determines whether an applicant is disabled by analyzing five sequential steps. First, if the applicant is “doing substantial gainful activity, ” he or she will be found not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). Second, if the claimant has not had a severe impairment or a combination of such impairments[2] for a continuous period of at least 12 months, no disability will be found. Id. Third, if the claimant’s severe impairments meet or equal the criteria of an impairment set forth in the Commissioner’s Listing of Impairments, the claimant will be found disabled. Id. If the fourth step is reached, the Commissioner considers its assessment of the claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC), and will find the claimant not disabled if he or she can still do past relevant work. Id. At the final step, the Commissioner reviews the claimant’s RFC, age, education and work experiences, and determines whether the claimant could adjust to other work. Id. The claimant bears the burden of proof throughout the first four steps, but the burden shifts to the Commissioner if the fifth step is reached. Preslar v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).
Applying this framework, the ALJ concluded that Bjornson was not disabled. At the first step, she found that Bjornson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 30, 2015. [ECF No. 7-2, Tr. 17]. At the second step, she found that Bjornson had the severe impairments of “invasive ductal carcinoma of right breast with metastasis to axillary lymph nodes and degenerative joint disease of the knees, multilevel spine, right shoulder and feet.” [Id., Tr. 18]. Next, the ALJ concluded that ...

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