Brown v. SSA, Commissioner of
OPINION AND ORDER (1) Overruling Plaintiff's Objections (Dkt. 16 ),(2) Accepting the Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge (Dkt. 15 ), (3) Denying Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 13 ), and (4) Granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 14 ). Signed by District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith. (Sandusky, K)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
SADARI IMARI BROWN,
Civil Action No. 16-CV-10472
HON. MARK A. GOLDSMITH
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
OPINION AND ORDER (1) OVERRULING PLAINTIFF’S OBJECTIONS (Dkt. 16),
(2) ACCEPTING THE RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE (Dkt.
15), (3) DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Dkt. 13),
AND (4) GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Dkt.
In this social security case, Plaintiff Sadari Imari Brown appeals from the final
determination of the Commissioner of Social Security that she is not disabled and, therefore, not
entitled to disability benefits. The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Patricia T. Morris for
a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”). The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment
(Dkts. 13, 14), and Magistrate Judge Morris issued an R&R recommending that the Court grant
the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment and deny Brown’s motion for summary
judgment (Dkt. 15). Brown filed objections to the R&R (Dkt. 16); the Commissioner subsequently
filed a response (Dkt. 17).
For the reasons that follow, the Court overrules Brown’s objections and accepts the
recommendation contained in the magistrate judge’s R&R. The Commissioner’s motion is granted
and Brown’s motion is denied. The final decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.
I. LEGAL STANDARD
The Court reviews de novo those portions of the R&R to which a specific objection has
been made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this
Court’s “review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner’s decision ‘is supported by
substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards.’” Ealy v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., 594 F.3d 504, 512 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Rogers v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234,
241 (6th Cir. 2007)). “Substantial evidence is ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’” Lindsley v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601, 604
(6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). In determining whether
substantial evidence exists, the Court may “look to any evidence in the record, regardless of
whether it has been cited by the [Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)].” Heston v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 535 (6th Cir. 2001). “[T]he claimant bears the burden of producing sufficient
evidence to show the existence of a disability.” Watters v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 530 F.
App’x 419, 425 (6th Cir. 2013).
Brown offers two objections: (i) the magistrate judge erred in finding that the ALJ’s
decision was supported by substantial evidence; and (ii) the magistrate judge erred in finding that
Brown’s mental residual functional capacity (“RFC”) was sufficient. See Obj. at 2, 3. The Court
concludes that both objections lack merit.
A. Objection One
Brown begins her objection by citing to Bowen v. Commissioner of Social Security, 478
F.3d 742 (6th Cir. 2007) for the proposition that a decision supported by substantial evidence will
not be upheld when the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) regulations were not followed by
the ALJ. Obj. at 2. A claimant is entitled to benefits under the Social Security Act if she can
demonstrate her “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). Corresponding regulations set forth a five-step process to determine if the claimant
is actually disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. This objection concerns the assessment
of Brown’s RFC, an assessment that occurs between the third and fourth steps. A claimant’s RFC
is used to determine whether the claimant is capable of past relevant work, and if not, whether she
is capable of making an adjustment to other work. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv)-(v).
In Bowen, the decision of the ALJ was overturned because the ALJ failed to address the
opinion of the claimant’s treating source, in violation of 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2). Bowen, 478
F.3d at 747. Unlike in Bowen, Brown fails to identify which regulation the ALJ failed to adhere
to. In her objection, Brown simply summarizes the court’s holding in Bowen and argues that she
is entitled to reversal on that basis. Obj. at 2. It is not the job of the Court to make an argument
on the claimant’s behalf when the claimant fails to provide her own factual support or legal
analysis. See McPherson v. Kelsey, 125 F.3d 989, 995-996 (6th Cir. 1997) (“[I]ssues adverted to
in a perfunctory manner, unaccompanied by some effort at developed argumentation, are deemed
waived. It is not sufficient for a party to mention a possible argument in the most skeletal way,
leaving the court to . . . put flesh on its bones.”); Deguise v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 12-10590,
2013 WL 1189967, at *7 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 19, 2013) (“[P]laintiff cannot simply make the claim
that the ALJ erred . . . while leaving it to the Court to scour the record to support this claim.”),
report and recommendation adopted by 2013 WL 1187291 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 22, 2013); Crocker
v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 1:08-CV-1091, 2010 WL 882831, at *6 (W.D. Mich. Mar. 9, 2010)
(“This court need not make the lawyer’s case by scouring the party’s various submissions to piece
together appropriate arguments.”). As a result, the argument that the ALJ’s decision should be
overturned for failure to follow the regulations is waived.
Brown next argues that she is entitled to reversal because the ALJ and magistrate judge
misconstrued evidence and overlooked evidence that supported her claim of disability. Obj. at 23. Specifically, Brown argues that the ALJ and magistrate judge “misconstrued medical evidence
and testimony that ultimately, resulted in an inadequate RFC to address Plaintiff’s severe medical
conditions.” Id. at 3. In Drummond v. Commissioner of Social Security, 126 F.3d 837, 842 (6th
Cir. 1997), the Sixth Circuit held that “[a]bsent evidence of an improvement in a claimant's
condition, a subsequent ALJ is bound by the findings of a previous ALJ.” This rule was
subsequently adopted by the SSA. See SSAR 98-4(6), 1998 WL 283902, at *3 (“SSA may not
make a different finding in adjudicating a subsequent disability claim with an unadjudicated period
arising under the same title of the Act as the prior claim unless new and additional evidence or
changed circumstances provide a basis for a different finding of the claimant’s residual functional
Here, Brown previously filed an application for disability benefits on January 27, 2010.
A.R. at 16. After the application was denied, Brown appealed and proceeded to a hearing before
an ALJ. Id. On August 2, 2011, the ALJ affirmed the denial of benefits. Id. In her ruling, the
ALJ determined that Brown had the following RFC:
[T]o perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with
the following nonexertional limitations: unskilled, routine, nonproduction-oriented, self-paced work with occasional contact with
the general public, co-workers, and supervisors; cannot climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; should avoid concentrated exposure to
fumes, odors, dusts, noxious gases, and poor ventilation; and should
avoid hazards, such as moving machinery and unprotected heights.
A.R. at 26
The ALJ in the present case adopted the previous RFC determination, reasoning that while
new and material evidence was presented, it was insufficient to constitute a change in Brown’s
Brown now contends that the ALJ misconstrued the medical evidence and her testimony
regarding her functional capacity. See Obj. at 3. Brown notes her own testimony that she was
unable to participate in any housework and that her condition deteriorated to the point that she
spent most of her days in bed. Id. Contrary to Brown’s claims, the ALJ considered Brown’s
testimony that she experienced symptoms of “self-isolation, inability to focus, suicidal ideation,
memory loss, panic attacks, inability to make decisions, and racing thoughts.” A.R. at 24. The
ALJ found this testimony not to be credible, however, because it was at odds with Brown’s medical
records during the period of her alleged disability. Id. “[A]n ALJ's credibility determinations
about the claimant are to be given great weight,” provided the determination is supported by
substantial evidence. Cruse v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 542 (6th Cir. 2007). The ALJ
noted that while Brown was hospitalized on three occasions from September 2011 to September
2012, each of these hospitalizations was brief, and there was no evidence that Brown required any
follow-up treatment. A.R. at 24, 362-465, 834-993.
Furthermore, medical records from Brown’s psychiatrist, Dr. Nadimpalli Raju,
demonstrate that from October 2012 to March 2013, Brown showed significant improvement. Id.
at 24, 466-486. A review of the records shows that during Brown’s first visit on October 2, 2012,
Dr. Raju concluded that Brown’s prognosis was “fair for remaining in the community and guarded
for gainful employment.” Id. at 468. During a visit in December 2012, Brown reported that she
was “much more able to care for self even though she still has the periods of difficulty and
sadness.” Id. at 483. Her records from March 2013 indicate that she showed improvement and
informed Dr. Raju that she had not experienced any bad days. Id. at 478-479. The ALJ noted that,
according to Dr. Raju’s notes, there was very little difference in Brown’s condition before and
after she began work in April 2013, indicating that Brown’s condition was not as dire as she
testified to. Id. at 24.
Moreover, Brown failed to offer any opinions from her own doctors, or other sources, that
her RFC had changed since her previous application for benefits was denied. The only medical
professional to give an opinion regarding Brown’s mental functional capacity, Dr. Rose Moten,
concluded that no new and material evidence had been presented that would change the prior ALJ’s
conclusion in regard to Brown’s RFC. Id. at 26. All of the above demonstrates that the ALJ’s
determination of Brown’s RFC, and her finding that Brown was not disabled, were supported by
B. Objection Two
Brown begins her second objection by rehashing her argument that the ALJ’s RFC
determination was improper.
As noted above, the ALJ was bound by the previous RFC
determination “unless new and additional evidence or changed circumstances provide a basis for
a different finding.” See SSAR 98-4(6), 1998 WL 283902, at *3. All new and material evidence
simply reinforced the previous ALJ’s RFC determination. See A.R. at 24-26, 362-465, 466-486,
Brown also argues that “[t]he ALJ dismissed Plaintiff’s treaters’ assessments of her
abilities, including her agoraphobic fears that were severely impacting her activity.” Obj. at 4.
Brown further argues that her records from Eastwood Clinics were not properly considered. Id.
Regarding the treaters’ assessments of Brown’s abilities, the ALJ noted that Brown “has
not offered (and the record does not contain) any formal opinions from any of her own doctors or
even from non-medical sources analyzing her residual functional capacity.” A.R. at 26. According
to the ALJ, “the record does not contain any opinions from treating or examining physicians
indicating that the claimant is disabled or even that she has limitations greater than those
determined in this decision.” Id.
In regard to Brown’s records from Eastwood Clinics, the magistrate judge noted in her
R&R that Brown only referred to records from Eastwood Clinic “without identifying any particular
physician, an impermissible analytical shortcut.” R&R at 32. As a result, the magistrate judge
deemed this argument waived. Id. A review of Brown’s objection demonstrates that she has again
failed to identify any particular physician at Eastwood. Obj. at 4. As a result, this argument is
waived. See McPherson, 125 F.3d at 995–996 (6th Cir. 1997).1
Finally, Brown argues that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate her credibility. See Obj. at
4-6. As noted by the Commissioner, Brown failed to raise an argument regarding the ALJ’s
assessment of credibility before the magistrate judge. An argument raised for the first time in an
objection to a magistrate judge’s R&R is considered waived. Murr v. United States, 200 F.3d 895,
901 n.1 (6th Cir. 2000).
Even if this argument was properly before this Court, it cannot be said that the ALJ erred
in evaluating Brown’s credibility. The ALJ discussed at length how Brown’s testimony regarding
her self-isolation was inconsistent with her medical records. A.R. at 24-26. The ALJ also noted
inconsistency in Brown’s testimony regarding her relationship with her boyfriend during the time
of her alleged disability. Id. at 21. Finally, the ALJ discussed the lack of evidence showing that
Brown followed through with her outpatient mental health therapy. Id. at 24. The ALJ opined
that if Brown’s symptoms were as severe as she testified to, she would have followed through with
Even if the Court were to consider this argument, the entirety of Brown’s records from Eastwood
Clinic consists of duplicates of an August 29, 2011 letter from the clinic to another physician
documenting Brown’s medications. A.R. at 608, 725-729, 947. This is insufficient to alter the
previous determination of Brown’s RFC.
these appointments. Id. This demonstrates that the ALJ thoroughly discussed her reasons for
discounting Brown’s testimony.
For the above-stated reasons, the Court overrules Brown’s objections (Dkt. 16) and accepts
the recommendation contained in the magistrate judge’s R&R (Dkt. 15). Brown’s motion for
summary judgment (Dkt. 13) is denied and the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment
(Dkt. 14) is granted.
Dated: February 27, 2017
s/Mark A. Goldsmith
MARK A. GOLDSMITH
United States District Judge
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
The undersigned certifies that the foregoing document was served upon counsel of record and any
unrepresented parties via the Court's ECF System to their respective email or First Class U.S. mail
addresses disclosed on the Notice of Electronic Filing on February 27, 2017.
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