Williams et al v. SSA, Commissioner of
OPINION AND ORDER accepting 13 Report and Recommendation, overruling plaintiff's objections 15 , denying plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment 11 , granting defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment 12 , and sustaining defendant's limited objection 14 Signed by District Judge George Caram Steeh. (MBea)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
CASE NO. 16-CV-12176
HON. GEORGE CARAM STEEH
MAG. JUDGE PATRICIA MORRIS
o/b/o R.M.A.C., a minor,
OPINION AND ORDER ACCEPTING REPORT AND
RECOMMENDATION (Doc. 13), OVERRULING
PLAINTIFF’S OBJECTIONS (Doc. 15), DENYING PLAINTIFF’S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. 11), GRANTING
DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. 12),
AND SUSTAINING DEFENDANT’S LIMITED OBJECTION (Doc. 14)
This matter is before the court on the parties’ cross motions for
summary judgment as to Plaintiff Tyesha Williams’s claim, on behalf of her
son, R.M.A.C., for judicial review of a final decision of Defendant
Commissioner that Plaintiff was not disabled under 42 § U.S.C.
1382c(a)(3)(C). The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Patricia T.
Morris who issued a report and recommendation on April 21, 2017,
Commissioner’s motion be granted. Plaintiff filed timely objections to the
magistrate judge’s report and recommendation, which this court has duly
considered. Defendant filed a limited objection to the magistrate judge’s
report and recommendation, which this court has also considered. For the
reasons stated below, Plaintiff’s objections are overruled, Defendant’s
limited objection is sustained, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment is
granted, Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is denied, and the court
shall accept the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation.
II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The facts and procedural history of this case are set forth in the
magistrate judge’s report and recommendation. Upon review of the record,
the court accepts the recitation of the facts set forth there as the factual
findings of this court.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Judicial review of benefits decisions made by the Commissioner of
Social Security after a hearing is authorized by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). When
reviewing a magistrate judge’s report and recommendation upon objection
from any party, the court “shall make a de novo determination of those
portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to
which 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.” Id.
A district court may affirm, modify, or reverse the Commissioner’s
decision, with or without remand. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Findings of fact
by the Commissioner are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence.
Id. The court must affirm the decision unless it determines that the
Commissioner “has failed to apply the correct legal standards or has made
findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence.” Warner v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004). The court may not evaluate
the credibility of witnesses or try the case de novo. Ulman v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir. 2012).
Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla of evidence but less
than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Rogers v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted); see also Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25
F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (internal citations omitted) (explaining that if
the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, “it must
be affirmed even if the reviewing court would decide the matter differently
and even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion”);
Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir.1986) (en banc) (noting that
the substantial evidence standard “presupposes... a zone of choice within
which the decisionmakers can go either way, without interference by the
courts”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A court may not
reverse the Commissioner’s decision merely because it disagrees or
because substantial evidence can also be found in the record to support
the opposite conclusion. McClanahan v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d
830, 833 (6th Cir. 2006).
A. Plaintiff’s Objection No. 1
Plaintiff alleges that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and
Magistrate Judge Morris violated agency regulations, thus establishing a
lack of substantial evidence. (Doc. 15 at 1). Plaintiff quotes a court
decision; however, Plaintiff does not provide evidence to support that the
opinions of the ALJ or Magistrate Judge Morris violated agency regulations.
Id. at 1-2. Plaintiff further contends that “[s]ubstantial evidence on this
record supports only one result[,]” that R.M.A.C.’s impairments functionally
equal a listing. Id. at 2. Yet, Plaintiff does not attempt to prove that
“substantial evidence on this record supports only one result.” Id.
As Magistrate Judge Morris noted, as long as the Commissioner's
decision applied the correct legal standard and is supported by substantial
evidence in the record, it must be upheld. (Doc. 13 at 3). A decision by the
Commissioner is not reversible simply because there exists in the record
substantial evidence to support a different conclusion. See McClanahan,
474 F.3d at 833. Plaintiff appears to argue that the ALJ and Magistrate
Judge Morris did not give proper consideration to the questionnaires
completed by the teachers and Plaintiff’s mother. (Doc. 15 at 2). The ALJ
and Magistrate Judge Morris considered all evidence, but found the specific
medical findings of Drs. Bray and Czarnecki more persuasive. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(a)(3) (explaining that medical opinions are given more
weight when they present specific and relevant medical signs).
The court holds that the ALJ and Magistrate Judge Morris did give
proper consideration to all the evidence in the record. Pursuant to 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(1)-(6), the ALJ and Magistrate Judge Morris
appropriately considered the questionnaires as well as the medical
evidence. (Doc. 13 at 13-14). Furthermore, the ALJ’s conclusions were
supported by substantial evidence based on the totality of the information
obtained from Dr. Czarnecki, Dr. Hugh Bray, and Ms. Simancek. Id. 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) provides that findings of fact supported by substantial
evidence are conclusive. Therefore, the court finds Plaintiff’s argument that
the ALJ and Magistrate Judge Morris violated agency regulations
B. Plaintiff’s Objection No. 2
recommendation did not properly evaluate “the evidence to determine
whether substantial evidence supports the choices made by the ALJ” in
concluding that R.M.A.C. was not markedly limited in acquiring and using
information. (Doc. 15 at 2-3). Instead of providing additional evidence to
support this contention, Plaintiff recites verbatim a portion of a previous
brief before this court. (Compare Doc. 15 at 3-4 with Doc. 11 at 15-16).
When Plaintiff’s objections merely recite duplicate arguments, “[t]his Court
is not obligated to address objections made in this form because the
objections fail to identify the specific errors in the magistrate judge’s
proposed recommendations.” Owens v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 1:12-CV47, 2013 WL 1304470, at *3 (W.D. Mich. Mar. 28, 2013).
Moreover, it is clear that Magistrate Judge Morris did properly
analyze the evidence as to whether R.M.A.C. was markedly limited in
acquiring and using information. The report and recommendation
comprehensively discussed the evidence that the ALJ considered to find
that R.M.A.C. did not have marked limitations in any domain. (See Doc. 13
at 12-15). Plaintiff relies on Mr. Wiggins’ questionnaire, even though the
report explained the ALJ’s decision to give little weight to Mr. Wiggins’
questionnaire. Id. at 13. Medical opinions are to be accorded controlling
weight by the ALJ if they are based on “medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques” and are not inconsistent with substantial
evidence in the record. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). Opinions that are
not accorded controlling weight must be assessed using a six-factor test
that takes into account the nature and length of the treatment relationship,
frequency of examination, consistency of the opinion with the record as a
whole, and the specialization of the treating source. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(1)-(6). The ALJ must give “good reasons” for the weight
assigned to a particular medical opinion. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). Here,
the ALJ provided a sound explanation for the minimal weight assigned to
Mr. Wiggins’ questionnaire. In particular, the report and recommendation
gave Mr. Wiggins’ questionnaire little weight because he had known
R.M.A.C. for only twenty days. (Doc. 13 at 13).
The report and recommendation duly considered Ms. Simancek’s
questionnaire and explained that it did show serious behavioral issues. Id.
Nevertheless, Ms. Simancek observed that Plaintiff showed significant
improvement in his behavior over time. Id. The ALJ then compared the
questionnaire to the medical findings of psychologists Dr. Czarnecki and
Dr. Hugh Bray. Id. Dr. Czarnecki found “less than marked limitations in the
areas of attending and completing tasks, interacting and relating with
others, and caring for oneself.” Id. Dr. Bray found that Plaintiff was not
markedly limited in any areas. Id. Thus, the ALJ and Magistrate Judge
Morris properly weighed the evidence, and this court affirms those findings.
C. Plaintiff’s Objection No. 3
Plaintiff argues that “the Magistrate Judge again simply affirmed the
result reached by the ALJ without the requisite inquiry into the substantiality
of the evidence supporting the finding reached” as to attending and
completing tasks and interacting and relating to others. Again, Plaintiff
recites verbatim from a previous brief before this court. (Compare Doc. 15
at 6-8 with Doc. 11 at 16-19). Again, “[t]his Court is not obligated to address
objections made in this form because the objections fail to identify the
specific errors in the magistrate judge’s proposed recommendations.”
Owens, 2013 WL 1304470, at *3. As to the question of attending and
completing tasks, the little weight given to Mr. Wiggins’ questionnaire was
sufficiently supported “because he had very limited personal knowledge of
Plaintiff’s condition.” (Doc. 13 at 14). Furthermore, the findings of Ms.
Simancek, Dr. Bray, and Dr. Czarnecki supported the ALJ’s conclusion. Id.
As to interacting and relating with others, Plaintiff relies on
“statements from teachers, his school, and his mother.” (Doc. 15 at 6-7).
However, Plaintiff ignores the findings of Drs. Bray and Czarnecki. See id.
at 5-9. Plaintiff’s explanation as to why the statements from teachers and
his mother should be given more weight than the medical findings of
psychologists was that “[t]he teacher is in the very best position to
comment and remark upon RMAC’s abilities to complete tasks, focus, and
pay attention.” Id. at 8; see also Doc. 13 at 15-16. The court finds this
contention unpersuasive. Again, Magistrate Judge Morris correctly
discounted Mr. Wiggins’ questionnaire and explained that “[t]he ALJ
favored the findings of Drs. Bray and Czarnecki here, noting that even in
Ms. Simancek’s report, Plaintiff recently exhibited ‘significant improvement
with only occasional problems.’” (Doc. 13 at 15). Thus, Magistrate Judge
Morris properly affirmed the ALJ’s findings, and this court affirms those
D. Plaintiff’s Objection No. 4
Plaintiff asserts that “[t]he Magistrate Judge erred when she found
that the ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff did not have marked difficulties in the
domain of caring for oneself was ‘ultimately harmless.’” (Doc. 15 at 9). The
report and recommendation found that this error was harmless because if
Plaintiff was found markedly impaired in caring for oneself, that impairment
alone would not be enough to functionally equal a listed impairment. (Doc.
13 at 17). 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a requires marked limitations in two domains
of functioning for an impairment to functionally equal a listed impairment.
The only argument Plaintiff raised to show that this error was not harmless
was that “the other domains remain hotly contested by Plaintiff [and] this
one area makes a major difference.” (Doc. 15 at 10). To that point, the
court holds that the totality of the medical evidence of Drs. Bray and
Czarnecki coupled with Ms. Simancek’s report was sufficient to support the
magistrate judge’s conclusion that this was a harmless error.
E. Defendant’s Limited Objection
Defendant points out that the magistrate judge’s report and
recommendation erroneously identified that Social Security Ruling (SSR)
96-6p “did not apply to this case because it was rescinded on March 27,
2014.” (Doc. 14 at 1). The report and recommendation is incorrect; SSR96-6p was rescinded on March 27, 2017. See SSR 17-2p: Titles II and XVI:
Evidence Needed by Adjudicators at the Hearings and Appeals Council
Levels of the Administrative Review Process To Make Findings About
Medical Equivalence, 82 Fed. Reg. 15263-02 (Mar. 27, 2017) (rescinding
and replacing SSR 96-6p). Therefore, SSR 96-6p did apply to the ALJ’s
January 29, 2015 decision; however, under SSR 96-6p, the ALJ was not
required to obtain an updated medical opinion on the subject of functional
Plaintiff appears to confuse functional equivalence with medical
equivalence. Only medical equivalence requires the ALJ to obtain an
updated medical report. See SSR 09-1p (stating that “[w]hile SSR 96-6p
requires that an ALJ … must obtain an updated medical expert opinion
before making a decision of disability based on medical equivalence, there
is no such requirement for decisions of disability based on functional
equivalence.”). As Defendant correctly noted, SSR 96-6p “does not apply
when an ALJ is considering whether a child’s impairment functionally
equals a listing.” (Doc. 12 at 11) (quoting Johnson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.,
No. 13-cv-11658, 2014 WL 4798963, at *9 n.7 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 26, 2014)).
Notwithstanding the mistake, the report and recommendation correctly
found that SSR 96-6p did not require an updated medical opinion in this
matter. (Doc. 13 at 19). Therefore, Defendant’s limited objection is
sustained and the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation is
For the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff’s objections are hereby
OVERRULED. Consistent with the analysis herein, the court hereby
ACCEPTS Magistrate Judge Morris’s report and recommendation dated
April 21, 2017 (Doc. 13), AFFIRMS the ALJ, SUSTAINS Defendant’s
limited objection (Doc. 14), GRANTS Defendant’s motion for summary
judgment (Doc. 12), DENIES Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment (Doc.
11), and DISMISSES Plaintiff’s complaint WITH PREJUDICE.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: July 11, 2017
s/George Caram Steeh
GEORGE CARAM STEEH
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
Copies of this Order were served upon attorneys of record
on July 11, 2017, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
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