Fields v. Colvin
ORDER Accepting Report and Recommendation 22 and Remanding Matter Pursuant to Sentence Four. Signed by District Judge Denise Page Hood. (LSau)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
KATIVIA D. FIELDS,
Case No. 15-13895
Hon. Denise Page Hood
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
ORDER ACCEPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
AND REMANDING MATTER PURSUANT TO SENTENCE FOUR
This matter is before the Court on Magistrate Judge Stephanie Dawkins
Davis’s Report and Recommendation. [Doc. No. 22] Timely objections and a
response to the objections were filed in this matter. [Doc. Nos. 23 and 24] The
Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court deny Defendant’s Motion for
Summary Judgment, grant Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment to the extent
she seeks remand (but not to the extent she seeks reversal and a direct award of
benefits), and remand this matter back to the Defendant pursuant to sentence four
of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain an expert medical opinion regarding Plaintiff’s
physical impairments and for further consideration of Plaintiff’s application in
light of that expert medical opinion.
Judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision is limited in scope to
determining whether the Commissioner employed the proper legal criteria in
reaching his conclusion. Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383 (6th Cir. 1984). The
credibility findings of an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) must not be discarded
lightly and should be accorded great deference. Hardaway v. Secretary of Health
and Human Services, 823 F.2d 922, 928 (6th Cir. 1987). A district court’s review
of an ALJ’s decision is not a de novo review. The district court may not resolve
conflicts in the evidence nor decide questions of credibility. Garner, 745 F.2d at
397. The decision of the Commissioner must be upheld if it is supported by
substantial evidence, even if the record might support a contrary decision or if the
district court arrives at a different conclusion. Smith v. Secretary of HHS, 893 F.2d
106, 108 (6th Cir. 1984); Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986).
The Court has had an opportunity to review this matter and finds that the
Magistrate Judge reached the correct conclusions for the proper reasons.
Defendant objects to the Magistrate Judge’s: (a) conclusion that the ALJ’s failure
to obtain a medical opinion regarding medical equivalence was not harmless error;
and (b) holding that the absence of a medical opinion supporting the ALJ’s RFC
finding requires remand.
With respect to the first objection, Defendant argues that because the
“evidence does not demonstrate the possibility that [Plaintiff] [can] meet the
criteria of a listed impairment,” Leveque v. Colvin, No. 14-12096, 2015 WL
4601156, at *6 (E.D. Mich. June 16, 2015) (R&R adopted Sept. 23, 2015), the
ALJ’s error in failing to obtain a medical opinion regarding medical equivalence
was harmless. Defendant concedes that the ALJ erred in failing to obtain such a
medical opinion, but contends that the evidence it cites demonstrates that Plaintiff
could not meet the criteria of listing 1.04.
The Court notes that Defendant has presented evidence that could support a
finding that Plaintiff has not satisfied the criteria of listing 1.04. The Court also
finds that the evidence, specifically medical findings subsequent to Plaintiff’s
November 29, 2012 surgery to address her cervical spine issues, could support a
finding that Plaintiff can satisfy the criteria of listing 1.04. See, e.g., Doc. No. 22,
PgID 983-85; Doc. No. 24, PgID 1003-06. And, as “[n]either the ALJ nor this
court possesses the requisite medical expertise to determine if [Plaintiff’s]
impairments . . . in combination equal one of the Commissioner’s listings,” Sheeks
v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 2015 WL 753205, at *7 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 23, 2015)
(citations and internal quotations omitted), the Court concludes that this matter
must be remanded so that the ALJ can obtain the opinion of a qualified medical
advisor on the equivalence of Plaintiff’s physical impairments. The Court denies
Defendant’s first objection.
In its second objection, Defendant contends that the Magistrate Judge
misapplied the law in the Sixth Circuit and in this district when she stated:
Although ultimately a finding of no disability may be appropriate in
this case, substantial evidence does not exist in the record to support
the current RFC determination because there is no RFC determination
by a consulting physician or expert medical advisor.
Doc. No. 23, PgID 996 (citing Doc. No. 22, PgID 988). Defendant argues that the
law is well established that an ALJ does not err “simply because there is no
medical opinion that corresponds to her RFC finding.” Citing Rudd v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., No. 15-11553, 2016 WL 1729553, at *12 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 22, 2016)
(rejecting argument that ALJ must base RFC finding on a medical opinion because
“the Commissioner has final responsibility for deciding an individual’s RFC”);
Sparrow v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 15-11397, 2016 WL 1658305, at *7 (E.D.
Mich. Mar. 30, 2016), R & R adopted, 2016 WL 1640416 (E.D. Mich. Apr. 26,
2016) (“the Commissioner is not obligated to base th[e] RFC upon a physician’s
RFC, or upon any particular piece of evidence”). Defendant argues that it was
error for the Magistrate Judge to “basically hold that the ALJ here exceeded her
expertise simply because there was no medical opinion directly supporting her
RFC assessment.” Doc. No. 23, PgID 997.
The Court finds that Defendant has accurately stated the law of the cases
cited, but as Plaintiff notes, the facts of this case are different than the facts of
those cases. Unlike the cases cited by Defendant, where the ALJ was able to rely
or base the RFC finding on some medical opinion, it is undisputed that there was
an absence of any medical opinion upon which the ALJ in this case based her RFC
finding. See, e.g., SSR 96-5p (RFC must be “based upon consideration of all
relevant evidence in the case record, including medical evidence and relevant
nonmedical evidence”); Isaacs v. Astrue, 2009 WL 3672060, at *10 (S.D. Ohio
Nov. 4, 2009) (quoting Deskin v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 605 F.Supp.2d 908, 912
(N.D. Ohio 2008) (citing Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999)) (“The
residual functional capacity opinions of treating physicians, consultative
physicians, and medical experts who testify at hearings are crucial to determine a
claimant’s RFC because ‘[i]n making the residual functional capacity finding, the
ALJ may not interpret raw medical data in functional terms.’”).
The Court finds that these cases do not conflict with the established law that
“the Commissioner has the final responsibility for deciding an individual’s RFC.”
Rudd, 531 F. App’x at 727-28. The fact that the Commissioner (ALJ) has to make
the final decision regarding an applicant’s RFC does not obviate the
Commissioner’s obligation to base the RFC on some medical evidence. SSR 965p; 20 C.F.R. 404.1527; Simpson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 344 F. App’x 181, 194 (6
th Cir. 2009) (quoting Rohan v. Chater, 98 F.3d 966, 970 (7th Cir. 1996)) (“ALJs
must not succumb to the temptation to play doctor and make their own independent
Finally, contrary to Defendant’s suggestion, the Magistrate Judge did not
hold that the ALJ erred because “there is no medical opinion that corresponds to
her RFC finding” or “because there was no medical opinion directly supporting her
RFC assessment.” Rather, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the ALJ’s RFC
determination “was apparently formulated based on her own independent medical
findings.” Doc. No. 22, PgID 988. The Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge’s
determination and notes that Defendant did not contest that determination in its
objection. Accordingly, the Court denies Defendant’s second objection.
For the reasons set forth above, the Court finds that the ALJ’s decision,
including but not limited to the determinations Defendant challenges in its
objections, was supported by substantial evidence and was not based on any legally
erroneous determination. Further, the Court accepts the Magistrate Judge’s Report
and Recommendation as this Court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law.
IT IS ORDERED that the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge
Stephanie Dawkins Davis [Doc. No. 22, filed February 17, 2017] is ACCEPTED
and ADOPTED as this Court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant’s Objections [Doc. No. 23,
filed February 28, 2017] are OVERRULED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary
Judgment [Doc. No. 17, filed March 25, 2016] is GRANTED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion for Summary
Judgment [Doc. No. 18, filed April 11, 2016] is DENIED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that this matter is REMANDED back to the
Commissioner, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain an expert
medical opinion regarding Plaintiff’s physical impairments and for further
consideration of Plaintiff’s application in light of that expert medical opinion.
S/Denise Page Hood
Chief Judge, United States District Court
Dated: March 31, 2017
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was served upon counsel of
record on March 31, 2017, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
S/LaShawn R. Saulsberry
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