Cottrell v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner of (PLR1)
MEMORANDUM OPINION: the court ACCEPTS IN WHOLE the Report and Recommendation under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). It is ORDERED, for the reasons stated in the Report and Recommendation, which the court adopts and incorporates into its ruling, that the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [R. 14] is DENIED; the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment [R. 17] is GRANTED; the Commissioner's decision in this case denying plaintiff's application for benefits under the Social Security Act is AFFIRMED; and this case is DISMISSED. Signed by District Judge Pamela L Reeves on September 26, 2017. (AYB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
This Social Security appeal is before the court for consideration of the plaintiff’s
objections [R. 21] to the Report and Recommendation filed by United States Magistrate
Judge Christopher H. Steger [R. 20].
Magistrate Judge Steger found that the
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) properly reviewed and weighed the evidence to determine
that plaintiff is capable of performing a range of medium-exertion work with some
restrictions. Thus, Magistrate Judge Steger recommended that plaintiff’s motion for
summary judgment be denied and the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment be
Standard of Review
When a party objects to the magistrate judge’s R&R, the court must conduct a de
novo review of portions of the R&R to which specific objections are made unless the
objections are frivolous, conclusive, or general. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P.
72(b); Smith v. Detroit Fed. Of Teachers, 829 F.2d 1370, 1373 (6th Cir. 1987). Although
the court is required to engage in a de novo review of specific objections, if the objections
merely restate the party’s arguments raised in the motion for summary judgment that were
previously addressed by the magistrate judge, the court may deem the objections waived.
VanDiver v. Martin, 304 F.Supp.2d 934, 937 (E.D.Mich. 2004). A general objection, or
one that merely restates the arguments previously presented is not sufficient to alert the
court to alleged errors on the part of the magistrate judge. An objection that does nothing
more than state a disagreement with a magistrate judge’s recommendation, or simply
summarizes what has been presented before, is not an objection as that term is used in this
context. Id. at 937. A party has the duty to pinpoint those portions of the magistrate judge’s
report that the district must specially consider. Mira v. Marshall, 806 F.2d 636, 637 (6th
Plaintiff made her application for disability insurance benefits and/or supplemental
security income alleging disability based on brain hemorrhage, two strokes, memory loss,
panic attacks, anxiety, and migraine headaches. The claim was denied by the ALJ on
August 29, 2014. The Appeals Council denied the plaintiff’s request for review, and
plaintiff sought judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision. As required by 28 U.S.C.
§ 36(b)(1) and Rule 72(b), Fed.R.Civ.P., the Court has now undertaken a de novo review
of those portions of the Report and Recommendation to which plaintiff objects. For the
reasons that follow, the plaintiff’s objections will be overruled.
Plaintiff states the ALJ failed to credit her testimony regarding the effects of her
impairments on her ability to work. A claimant’s statement that she is experiencing
disabling pain or other subjective symptoms will not, taken alone, establish that she is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(a); 416.929(a). The ALJ considered plaintiff’s statement
of limitations due to the residual effects of two strokes, memory loss, recurrent headaches,
chronic back pain, and obesity. The ALJ also considered alleged mental impairments,
including a mood disorder. The ALJ found plaintiff’s testimony not entirely credible
because despite plaintiff’s complaints of left arm weakness and numbness, diagnostic
imaging studies of her upper extremities were unremarkable.
MRA/MRI scans of
plaintiff’s brain were within normal limits in December 2011 and February 2013. A
December 2011 EEG was also normal.
The ALJ also considered that plaintiff’s
consultative physical examination with Dr. Huffman was “essentially benign, with slightly
reduced range of motion in her lumbar spine, normal gait and station, negative straight leg
raise tests, full strength, and no neurosensory deficits.” Dr. Huffman opined that plaintiff
could lift up to fifty pounds, sit for seven hours a day, stand for seven hours a day, and
walk for seven hours a day.
With respect to plaintiff’s alleged mental limitations, state agency psychological
consultants found she had “a mood disorder incident to her overall condition.” The ALJ
found this impairment produced a moderate limitation in her concentration, persistence or
pace and included mental limitations in plaintiff’s RFC. The ALJ also took note that
plaintiff reported a wide range of activities of daily living, including cooking, cleaning,
doing laundry, and shopping. Plaintiff has pointed to no specific evidence in the record to
contract these findings. The court will defer to the credibility finding by the ALJ, who had
an opportunity to evaluate the demeanor and consistency of the plaintiff’s testimony.
Siterlet v. Secr. of Health & Human Servs., 823 F.2d 918, 920 (6th Cir. 1987).
Plaintiff next argues that the ALJ failed to account for limitations related to her
migraine headaches when determining her RFC. The ALJ acknowledged plaintiff had a
history of migraines dating back to 2007. He noted that plaintiff complained of migraine
headaches to her neurologist Dr. Gibson in July 2007, with continued complaints in March
and June 2008. In November 2009, plaintiff reported no headaches since a chiropractic
adjustment. She later described headaches which she described as constant in May 2010,
May 2011, and April 2012. The ALJ noted that she reported no improvement in her
headaches in July 2013 and July 2014. The ALJ explained that he assigned little weight to
Dr. Gibson’s statement that plaintiff could not work a forty-hour workweek due to
headaches because the statement was not supported by the medical evidence and was
inconsistent with other evidence of record. Dr. Gibson checked a box on a form indicating
that plaintiff could not sustain any type of job for a normal workweek consisting of eight
hours a day, forty hours a week. However, Dr. Gibson provided no objective medical
support for his conclusory opinion. Because he failed to identify objective medical
findings to support his opinion regarding plaintiff’s impairments, the ALJ did not err in
discounting his opinion. See Price v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 342 Fed. Appx 172, 176 (6th
The ALJ gave greater weight to the opinion of the consultative examiner Dr.
Huffman. The ALJ explained that Dr. Huffman’s neurological examination was normal
and plaintiff demonstrated no neurosensory deficits.
Dr. Huffman’s opinion was
corroborated by the opinions of the state agency medical consultants who reviewed the
medical records. The medical consultants agreed with Dr. Huffman’s assessment that
plaintiff was capable of medium exertional level work with some restrictions.
After a careful review of the record and the parties’ pleadings, the court is in
complete agreement with the magistrate judge’s recommendation that plaintiff’s motion
for summary judgment be denied and the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment
Accordingly, the court ACCEPTS IN WHOLE the Report and
Recommendation under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). It is ORDERED,
for the reasons stated in the Report and Recommendation, which the court adopts and
incorporates into its ruling, that the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment [R. 14] is
DENIED; the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment [R. 17] is GRANTED; the
Commissioner’s decision in this case denying plaintiff’s application for benefits under the
Social Security Act is AFFIRMED; and this case is DISMISSED.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
A S S
UNITED STATES DISTRICT
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