Brooks v. Commissioner of Social Security
Opinion & Order signed by Judge James S. Gwin on 8/19/16. The Court, for the reasons set forth in this order, overrules plaintiff's objections, adopts the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, and affirms the Administrative Law Judge's denial of benefits. (Related Docs. 23 and 24 ) (D,MA)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
TIFFANY T. BROOKS,
OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
CASE NO. 15-CV-713
OPINION & ORDER
[Resolving Doc. 24]
-----------------------------------------------------JAMES S. GWIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE:
Plaintiff Tiffany Brooks brings claims for wrongful denial of Supplemental Security
Income Disability and Disability Insurance benefits.1 Magistrate Judge William H. Baughman,
Jr. recommended affirming the Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) denial of benefits.2
Plaintiff objects.3 For the reasons stated below, this Court OVERRULES Plaintiff’s objections,
ADOPTS the Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, and AFFIRMS the ALJ’s decision.
In November 2011, Plaintiff Brooks filed for disability benefits.4 Brooks said her
disability began on November 1, 2011.5
Doc. 14 at 2.
Case No. 15-CV-713
In November 2013, the ALJ found that Brooks had not experienced twelve continuous
months of disability and denied her application.6 The agency’s review council denied review of
the ALJ’s decision.7
On April 13, 2015, Brooks filed an appeal of the ALJ’s decision with this Court.8 On
June 24, 2016, Magistrate Judge Baughman, Jr. issued his Report and Recommendation that this
Court deny Plaintiff Brooks’s appeal.9
On July 8, 2016, Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation.10 Plaintiff
Brooks says that Magistrate Judge Baughman, Jr. failed to sufficiently rely on agency rules in his
Report and Recommendation.11 On August 5, 2016, Defendant Commissioner of Social Security
responded.12 This Court reviews Brooks’s objections de novo.13
III. Legal Standard
In reviewing an ALJ’s disability determination under the Social Security Act, a district
court reviews whether the ALJ’s decision is “supported by substantial evidence and [is] made
pursuant to proper legal standards.”14 Substantial evidence is defined as “such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”15
A district court is limited in what it can review. Specifically, a district court should not
try to resolve “conflicts in evidence or decide questions of credibility.”16 A district court also
Doc. 11 at 15.
Doc. 14 at 2.
Id. at 2-3.
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) (requiring de novo review of the claimant’s objections to a report and
Rogers v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quotation omitted).
Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007).
Case No. 15-CV-713
may not reverse an ALJ’s decision when substantial evidence supports it, even if the court would
have made a different decision.17
Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of evidence, but less than a preponderance.18
This Court cannot reverse the ALJ's decision, even if substantial evidence exists in the record
that would have supported an opposite conclusion, so long as substantial evidence supports the
To establish disability under the Social Security Act, a plaintiff must show that she
cannot engage in any substantial gainful activity because of a “medically determinable physical
or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected
to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.”20
This Court adopts and incorporates Magistrate Judge Baughman, Jr.’s analysis here.
Nevertheless, this Court responds to Plaintiff Brooks’s objections to the Report and
In order to qualify for federal disability benefits, an applicant must show that she did not
engage in substantial gainful activity for at least 12 months.21 At the ALJ hearing, Plaintiff
See Siterlet v. Sec. of Health and Human Servs., 823 F.2d 918, 920 (6th Cir. 1987); see also Jones v. Comm’r
of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 477 (6th Cir. 2003) (holding that the ALJ’s decision cannot be overturned so long as the
ALJ’s decision was supported by substantial evidence).
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997).
See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d); Heston v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 245 F.3d 528, 534 (6th Cir. 2001).
Heston, 245 F.2d 534 (6th Cir. 2001) provides a “five step sequential process” for analyzing disability claims
under the Social Security Act. An applicant’s lack of substantial gainful activity for at least 12 months is only part
of the five-step process.
Case No. 15-CV-713
Brooks testified that she became disabled on November 1, 2011.22 Less than 12 months later,
she started working as a secretary on October 8, 2012.23
Plaintiff Brooks argued that her 2012 employment should not be counted as substantial
gainful activity because she was training, not providing productive services to her employer.24
As a result, she claims she should receive disability benefits because she did not engage in
substantial gainful activity for at least 12 months.25
Plaintiff Brooks’s arguments lost, and the ALJ denied her application for disability.26 On
appeal, Magistrate Judge Baughman, Jr. concluded that substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s
determination that Brooks had not experienced twelve months of continuous disability.27
In her objections to the Report and Recommendations, Plaintiff Brooks does not argue
that the ALJ failed to base the decision on substantial evidence.28 Instead, Brooks says that
Magistrate Judge Baughman, Jr. improperly used case law to “shape administrative rules” on a
“matter of first impression.”29 The Plaintiff argues that Magistrate Judge Baughman, Jr. should
have remanded the case to the ALJ so that the agency itself could interpret whether Brooks’s
training qualified as substantial gainful activity.30 This argument loses.
Plaintiff Brooks contends that the agency should decide whether her training was
substantial gainful activity, not Magistrate Judge Baughman, Jr. Yet, the agency did decide this
Doc. 14 at 5.
Doc. 11 at 14.
Id. at 14-15.
Doc. 23. at 9-10.
Doc. 24. This Court agrees with Magistrate Judge Baughman, Jr. that the ALJ’s decision was based on
substantial evidence. Doc. 23. at 9-10.
Id. at 2.
Id. at 3.
Case No. 15-CV-713
matter when the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff’s 2012 training counts as substantial gainful
activity.31 This Court finds no reason to give the Plaintiff a second bite at the apple.
Plaintiff Brooks also says that Magistrate Judge Baughman, Jr. improperly used case law
to “shape administrative rules” on a “matter of first impression.”32 Agency rules will never
directly address every possible question. In fact, a magistrate judge’s review is particularly
valuable in situations where agency rules do not provide express guidance.
Magistrate judges may use case law to decide administrative appeals. Sometimes these
decisions will shape administrative rules. This outcome is appropriate. This Court rejects the
argument that magistrate judges should remand cases unless they find “an agency policy to
which to defer.”33
Therefore, Plaintiff Brooks’s objections to the Report and Recommendation lose.
For the foregoing reasons, this Court OVERRULES Plaintiff’s objections, ADOPTS the
Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, and AFFIRMS the ALJ’s denial of benefits.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: August 19, 2016
James S. Gwin
JAMES S. GWIN
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Doc. 11 at 11-15
Doc. 24. at 2.
Doc. 24. at 2-3.
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