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Miller v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 30, 2019

TRACY A. MILLER, Plaintiff,



         This matter is before the Court on a Report and Recommendation (Doc # 17) filed by Honorable Magistrate Judge Patricia T. Morris to grant the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) (Doc # 15) and to deny the Motion to Remand filed by Plaintiff Tracy A. Miller (“Miller”). (Doc # 14) Miller has timely filed eight objections to the Report and Recommendation. (Doc # 17) The Commissioner has filed a response to the objections. (Doc # 21)

         In January 2015, Miller filed an application for social security disability benefits. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Miller had the following injuries and conditions: depression; anxiety; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); plantar fasciitis of the right and left heels; tarsal tunnel of the right and left feet; otalgia of the right ear; glomus tumor with conductive hearing loss and headaches; tinnitus; obesity; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with stenosis and radiculopathy; and lower extremity peripheral neuropathy. Despite Miller’s various ailments, the ALJ concluded that Miller did not meet the definition of “disabled” under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The ALJ primarily based his decision on the inconsistencies between Miller’s treating physician and her specialists, as well as his finding that Miller would be able to engage in some “nonexertional” work.

         Miller’s main arguments against the ALJ’s analysis focused on the ALJ’s alleged misuse of the term “disabled” to evaluate her claim; decision to grant more weight to Miller’s specialists than her primary physician; disagreements with the mental capacity findings of the residual functional capacity assessment (“RFC”); and decisions concerning the weight of non-medical evidence. The Magistrate Judge noted that the ALJ’s analysis may have been vague in certain parts, but the analysis followed proper legal guidelines and any delineations resulted in harmless error. The Magistrate Judge further explained that the ALJ gave sufficient reasons for all his evidentiary decisions regarding the weight given to both medical and non-medical evidence.

         Having conducted a de novo review of the parts of the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation to which valid objections have been filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court ACCEPTS and ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation, GRANTS the Commissioner’s Motion for Summary Judgment, and DENIES Miller’s Motion to Remand.

         The background procedure and facts of this matter are adequately set forth in the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation, and the Court adopts them here.

         I. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         The standard of review by the district court when examining a Report and Recommendation is set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 636. This Court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or the specified proposed findings or recommendations to which an 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 judge.” Id. In order to preserve the right to appeal the magistrate judge’s recommendation, a party must file objections to the Report and Recommendation within fourteen (14) days of service of the Report and Recommendation. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2). Failure to file specific objections constitutes a waiver of any further right of appeal. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 155 (1985); Howard v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 508-09 (6th Cir. 1991); United States v. Walters, 638 F.2d 947, 949-50 (6th Cir. 1981).

         B. Miller’s Objections

         1. First Objection

         Miller first objects to the ALJ’s use of the term “debilitating” in contrast with the Acting Commissioner of Social Security’s (“Commissioner”) use of the term “disability” in connection with evaluating whether Miller is disabled. Miller argues that the ALJ used debilitating as a synonym for “disabling.” The ALJ uses different standards for rejecting a treating source’s medical opinion regarding whether one is “debilitated” or “disabled.” Miller argues that the use of the word debilitating created a higher than normal standard to be used to decide whether she meets the statutory definition of disabled. The Commissioner responds by stating that Miller’s definition of debilitating[1] actually created a lower standard than the Social Security Act’s definition of disability.[2] [ECF No. 21, Pg.ID 956] Such a lower standard would have helped Miller. The Commissioner further argues that while the ALJ may have used debilitating and disability interchangeably, no error or prejudice from the ALJ’s use of the term “debilitating” resulted.

         “If an agency has failed to adhere to its own procedures, a court will not remand for further administrative proceedings unless the claimant has been prejudiced on the merits or deprived of substantial rights because of the agency’s procedural lapses”. Rabbers v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 647 (6th Cir. 2009). Miller has not proven any prejudice or deprivation of substantial rights from the ALJ’s use of the term “debilitating” in place of “disability.”

         Miller further claims that the term “debilitating” tainted the treating source analysis of Dr. Kloska. The ALJ stated that Dr. Kloska’s opinion was regarded with little weight overall and given little consideration regarding the Plaintiff’s condition. [ECF No. 17, Pg.ID 912] Any taint, that resulted from the term debilitating instead of disabled is harmless, as discussed below with respect to Miller's second objection.

         The Magistrate Judge correctly determined that, although the wrong word was used, the ALJ applied the correct standard of law. The Court affirms the ALJ’s decision and Miller’s first objection is denied.

         2. ...

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