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Naddra v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

March 31, 2017

TINA NADDRA, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Bowman, M.J.

          ORDER

          MICHAEL R. BARRETT, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Magistrate Judge's December 22, 2016 R&R (Doc. 16), which recommends that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed in part, and reversed and remanded in part. Specifically, the Magistrate Judge recommends that this Court affirm the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), but recommends a remand for further factfinding on Plaintiff's Social Security Income (SSI) claim. (Id. at 664).

         Notice was given to the parties under Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). On January 5, 2017, Plaintiff moved for an unopposed extension of time to file objections to the R&R (Doc. 17), which extension is hereby granted; accordingly, Plaintiff's January 13, 2017 objections (Doc. 18) are deemed timely filed. On January 26, 2017, the Commissioner timely filed a response to the objections. (Doc. 19).[1]

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         As reflected in the R&R, the Magistrate Judge completed a comprehensive review of the record (Doc. 16, PAGEID# 641-43). and a summary of the same will not be repeated here. After the Magistrate Judge filed the R&R, Plaintiff asserted the following objections:

(1) "The Magistrate Judge erred in finding that the Administrative Law Judge properly rejected the opinion of Dr. Joffe, Plaintiff's treating cardiologist, that she was disabled by her [cardiac] impairment."
(2) The Administrative Law Judge erred in not finding Plaintiff credible." At the outset, the Court notes that Plaintiff's second objection is not framed as a "specific objection" to the Magistrate Judge's R&R, as required under Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). However, the Court will consider the objection as challenging the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that the ALJ's credibility determination was "supported by substantial evidence in the record." (Doc. 16, PAGEID# 663).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Where a party objects to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation on a dispositive matter, the district judge "must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). After review, the district judge "may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Id.; see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff's objections do not relate to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation relating to the SSI application; instead, Plaintiff focuses on the Magistrate Judge's recommendation that the Court affirm the Commissioner's denial of the DIB claim. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's objections are not well-taken.

         First, the Magistrate Judge was correct in finding that the ALJ - who was confronted with medical experts in disagreement - gave appropriate weight to the opinions of Dr. Joffe (Plaintiff's treating physician). Contrary to Plaintiff's assertion, the ALJ did not "reject" the opinions of Dr. Joffe; rather, "the ALJ discounted only some of the functional limitations offered by Dr. Joffe." (Doc. 655). Regardless, the Commissioner may reject the opinion of a treating physician: "[t]his court has consistently stated that the [Commissioner] is not bound by the treating physician's opinions, and that such opinions receive great weight only if they are supported by sufficient clinical findings and are consistent with the evidence." Combs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 459 F.3d 640, 652 (6th Cir. 2006) (en banc). In circumstances where the ALJ declines to give the treating physician's opinion controlling weight, the ALJ must provide "good reasons." 20 C.F.R. §404.1527(0(2). The Commissioner should not be reversed solely because the Court would reach a different decision on the same evidence; instead, there is a "zone of choice" within which the Commissioner may act, "without the fear of court interference." Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772-773 (6th Cir. 2001).

         Here, Plaintiff essentially argues that the rationale offered by the ALJ for discounting Dr. Joffe's opinions did not amount to "good reasons." (Doc. 18, PAGEID# 680) (citing Blakley v. Com'r of Soc. Sec, 581 F.3d 399, 406-407 (6th Cir. 2009), quoting SSR 96-2p). However, the Magistrate Judge correctly found that the ALJ's decision to discount some of Dr. Joffe's conclusions was well supported in the record. By way of example only, the ALJ observed that Dr. Joffe's conclusions regarding Plaintiff's limitations were at times contradictory (Doc. 16, PAGEID# 650) (citing Tr. 485-95; Tr. 45), insufficiently "supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory standards" (Doc. 16, PAGEID# 651) (citing Tr. 45), and lacking in explanation regarding the "basis for several opinions!, ]" which were often conclusory in nature (Doc. 16, PAGEID# 651, 654) (citing White v. Com'r of Soc. Sec,572 F.3d 272, 286 (6th Cir. 2009)("conclusory statements from physicians are properly discounted by ALJs"). ...


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