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Merlin Malone v. Commissioner of Social Security

November 10, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge John Adams


This matter comes before the Court on objections filed by Plaintiff Merlin Malone to the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") of the Magistrate Judge. This action was referred to the Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation on Malone's Appeal of the Social Security Administration's decision to deny his request for supplemental security income. On March 28, 2011, Magistrate Judge James R. Knepp issued his R&R recommending that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed. Malone timely objected, and the Commissioner has responded to the objections.

For the reasons stated below, the objections are overruled. The R&R is adopted and the findings of the Commissioner are AFFIRMED.

District courts conduct de novo review of those portions of a Magistrate Judge's R&R to which specific objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). In social security cases, ultimate judicial review of a decision by the Commissioner is limited to determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence based upon the record as a whole. Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005). The substantial evidence standard is met if "a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support a conclusion." Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir. 2004). If substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, this Court will defer to that finding "even if there is substantial evidence in the record that would have supported an opposite conclusion." Id.

Malone contends that the Magistrate Judge committed two errors in his analysis. This Court finds no merit in the objections.

First, Malone asserts that the Magistrate Judge erred in his conclusion that the ALJ's Step 3 finding was sufficient. Specifically, Malone asserts that the ALJ's findings were so conclusory that they do not provide even enough information to attack on appeal. In support, Malone relies upon Marok v. Astrue, 2010 WL 2294056 (N.D.Ohio June 3, 2010):

Sixth Circuit case law does not require a heightened articulation standard at Step Three of the sequential evaluation process. See Bledsoe v. Barnhart, No. 04-4531, 2006 WL 229795, at *411 (6th Cir. Jan.31, 2006) (citing Dorton v. Heckler, 789 F.2d 363, 367 (6th Cir. 1986)). In order to conduct a meaningful review, the Court does, however, require that the written decision makes sufficiently clear the reasons for the ALJ's decision. Cf. Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544-46 (6th Cir. 2004) (remanding the case because the ALJ failed to make sufficiently clear why he did not give proper weight to the treating physician's opinion); see also Hurst v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 753 F.2d 517, 519 (6th Cir. 1985) (finding that it is absolutely essential for meaningful appellate review for an ALJ to articulate reasons for crediting or rejecting evidence).

Id. at *3. In rejecting this argument, the Magistrate Judge relied upon Loy v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 901 F.2d 1306 (6th Cir. 1990) and Blankenship v. Bowen, 874 F.2d 1116, 1123-24 (6th Cir. 1989). In so doing, the R&R notes as follows:

When an ALJ determines that one or more impairments is severe, the ALJ "must consider limitations and restrictions imposed by all of an individual's impairments, even those that are not 'severe.'" SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, *5. An ALJ's cursory reference to the combined effect of a plaintiff's impairments is insufficient. Blankenship v. Bowen, 874 F.2d 1116, 1123-24 (6th Cir. 1989). However, "[a]n ALJ's individual discussion of multiple impairments does not imply that he failed to consider the effect of the impairments in combination, where the ALJ specifically refers to a 'combination of impairments' in finding that the plaintiff does not meet the listings." Loy v. Sec'y of Health & Human Serv., 901 F.2d 1306, 1310 (6th Cir. 1990) (quoting Gooch v. Sec'y of Health & Human Serv., 833 F.2d 589, 592 (6th Cir. 1987)).

Doc. 21 at 9. From the Court's review, it appears that Malone takes issue more with the layout of the ALJ's decision than its content. It is true that Step Three in the ALJ's decision contains only a conclusion. However, the Government is correct that Sixth Circuit has repeatedly emphasized the need to review the ALJ's decision as a whole. See, e.g., Kornecky v. Commissioner, 167 Fed. Appx. 496, 508 (6th Cir. 2006).

An ALJ can consider all the evidence without directly addressing in his written decision every piece of evidence submitted by a party. Nor must an ALJ make explicit credibility findings as to each bit of conflicting testimony, so long as his factual findings as a whole show that he implicitly resolved such conflicts.

Id. (quoting Loral Defense Systems-Akron v. N.L.R.B., 200 F.3d 436, 453 (6th Cir. 1999)) (emphasis added).

This Court has followed the Sixth Circuit and reviewed the ALJ's decision as a whole. Beginning at page 4 of the ALJ decision (Doc. 11-2 at 18), the ALJ begins discussing Malone's impairments. This discussion covers multiple pages, detailing Malone's past motorcycle accident, his history of pain that resulted from that accident, the complaints of pain, and Malone's own testimony. While perhaps the ALJ could have utilized a better layout for his decision, the Magistrate Judge is correct that the record demonstrates that the ALJ carefully considered the effect of Malone's individual impairments and the combination of those impairments before reaching his ultimate conclusion.

Furthermore, even if this Court were to determine that the ALJ's explanation was insufficient, it would not be inclined to remand the matter. Within his objections, Malone seems to suggest that the combination of his impairments equals 1.02 of the Medical Listings.*fn1 This Court has independently reviewed that claim and finds no merit in such a contention. The Court has reviewed each of Malone's alleged impairments. Giving full consideration to his prior injuries AND the activities he was able to perform during his ...

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