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Cottrill-Urmos v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

March 15, 2017

CONNIE L. COTTRILL-URMOS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN R. ADAMS JUDGE

         The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff Connie Cottrill-Urmos' application for supplemental social security income (“SSI”) and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff sought review of the Commissioner's decision, and the case was referred to Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Parker for preparation of a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1383(c)(3), 42 U.S.C. §405(g), and Local Rule 72.2(b)(1). The Magistrate Judge submitted an R&R that recommends this Court affirm the final decision of the Commissioner. Doc. 18. Defendant filed objections, and Plaintiff filed a response. Docs. 19, 20. For the following reasons, the Court hereby overrules the objection and ADOPTS the report and recommendation of the Magistrate Judge.

         The R&R adequately states the factual and procedural background of this case. Plaintiff has demonstrated no error in that background, so the Court will not reiterate those sections herein.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When a magistrate judge submits an R&R, the Court is required to conduct a de novo review of the portions of the Report and Recommendation to which an appropriate objection has been made. 28 U.S.C. §636(b). Objections to the R&R must be specific, not general, in order to focus the court's attention upon contentious issues. Howard v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991). The Court's review of the decision is limited to determining whether substantial evidence, viewing the record as a whole, supports the findings of the ALJ. Hephner v. Mathews, 574 F.2d 359, 362 (6th Cir. 1978). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (citing Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938); Besaw v. Sec'y of Health & Human Services, 966 F.2d 1028, 1030 (6th Cir. 1992) (per curiam)).

         If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, a reviewing court must affirm the decision even if it would decide the matter differently. Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Kinsella v. Schweiker, 708 F.2d 1058, 1059 (6th Cir. 1983) (per curiam)). Moreover the decision must be affirmed even if substantial evidence would also support the opposite conclusion. Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (en banc). This “standard allows considerable latitude to administrative decision makers. It presupposes that there is a zone of choice within which the decision makers can go either way, without interference by the courts. An administrative decision is not subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision.” Id. (quoting Baker v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 1147, 1150 (8th Cir. 1984)). In determining, however, whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings in the instant matter, the Court must examine the record as a whole and take into account what fairly detracts from its weight. Wyatt v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 974 F.2d 680, 683 (6th Cir. 1992). The Court must also consider whether the Commissioner employed the proper legal standards. Queen City Home Health Care Co. v. Sullivan, 978 F.2d 236, 243 (6th Cir. 1992).

         II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Here, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability since May 3, 2007, through the date of the decision; and therefore, social security benefits were denied. The Plaintiff filed an objection, arguing that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. Doc. 19. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ, and the thus the Magistrate Judge, erred at Step Three of the disability evaluation by finding that she did not meet Listing 1.02. Docs. 14, 18.

         It is the claimant's burden to prove that she meets or medically equals an impairment in the Listings. Evans v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 820 F.2d 161, 164 (6th Cir. 1987) (per curiam). “For a claimant to show that this impairment matches a listing, it must meet all of the specified medical criteria. An impairment that manifests only some of those criteria, no matter how severely, does not qualify.” Malone v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 507 F. App'x 470, 472 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530 (1990)) (emphasis added).

         1. Required medical imaging findings

         In her objection, Plaintiff argues generally that her MRI “clearly shows joint space narrowing in her ankles” and that this finding is sufficient to prove gross anatomical deformity. Doc. 19. The ALJ acknowledged that Dr. Tucker's accompanying reports for her 2008 and 2009 x-rays showed “perhaps some mild narrowing of the joint space” and “mild joint space narrowing at the ankle on the left when compared to the right.” Doc. 18 at 15. However, Dr. Tucker's reports also point out that the “joint spaces are fairly well maintained” and there was “definitely no bone on bone and no severe osteophytes.” He again noted in 2009 that the “joint space is still fairly well maintained.” Doc. 18 at 15. Plaintiff argues that this joint space narrowing is sufficient for the Listing. The ALJ expressly mentioned this piece of evidence and determined that the Plaintiff did not prove that she met the Listing requirement when looking overall at the medical reports. Doc. 18 at 16 (citing Tr. 21); see also Elam ex rel. Golay v. Commr. of Soc. Sec., 348 F.3d 124, 125 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Dorton v. Heckler, 789 F.2d 363, 367 (6th Cir.1986)) (“It is insufficient that a claimant comes close to meeting the requirements of a listed impairment.”).

         In her objection, Plaintiff does not address the remaining aspects of the medical records, namely that the joint space is well maintained. Instead, she presents the conclusory statement the ALJ's analysis was incorrect. Doc. 19. “An administrative decision is not subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision.” Mullen, 800 F.2d at 545. The ALJ made a reasonable inference that was supported by Dr. Tucker's full medical report, and the Plaintiff has not demonstrated that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence.

         2. Gross anatomical deformity

         Plaintiff next argues that the ALJ improperly found that she did not meet Listing 1.02's requirement for showing a gross anatomical deformity. Doc. 19. She argues that the ALJ and the Magistrate Judge failed to take into account all of the evidence that was available to support a finding of gross anatomical deformity, citing: 1) on July 31, 2007 Dr. Tucker diagnosed the Plaintiff with left ankle arthrosis and flat feet with posterior tibial tendon insufficient; 2) Plaintiff's diagnosis was corroborated by the x-rays on September 24, 2008; 3) Dr. Tucker noted Plaintiff experienced discomfort with single leg toe raise, a diffuse tenderness throughout her hind feet and ankles, and admitted sharp ankle pain, especially during weight ...


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