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Ballis v. Berryhill

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

March 29, 2018

JASON P. BALLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER

          Benita Y. Pearson United States District Judge.

         An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Plaintiff Jason Ballis's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) after a hearing. That decision became the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security when the Appeals Council denied the request to review the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff sought judicial review of the Commissioner's decision, and the Court referred the case to Magistrate Judge George J. Limbert for preparation of a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Rule 72.2(b)(1). After both parties filed briefs, the magistrate judge submitted a report (ECF No. 18) recommending that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. Plaintiff filed Objections to the Report and Recommendation. ECF No. 19. Defendant filed a Response. ECF No. 20. For the reasons that follow, the Court overrules Plaintiff's Objections and adopts the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation.

         I.

         When a magistrate judge submits a Report and Recommendation, 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 must be specific, not general, in order to focus the court's attention upon contentious issues. Howard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991). The primary issue then becomes whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision. The Court's review of the Commissioner's 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); Bartyzel v. Commr of Soc. Sec., 74 Fed.Appx. 515, 522-23 (6th Cir. 2003). 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. (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Besaw v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 966 F.2d 1028, 1030 (6th Cir. 1992) (per curiam).

         If substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, a reviewing court must affirm the decision even if it would decide the matter differently. Cutlip v. Secretary of Health and 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 decide 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 and 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).

         To establish disability under the Social Security Act, a claimant must show that he is unable to engage in substantial activity due to the existence 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.” See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The claimant's impairment must prevent him from doing his previous work, as well as any other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         In order for the Commissioner to find that a claimant suffers from a disability for which he should receive benefits, the claimant must be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to the existence of a “medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007). Under 42 U.S.C. § 1381, disabled individuals who meet certain income and resources requirements are entitled to SSI benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1100 and 416.1201.

         II.

         Plaintiff raises two objections to the magistrate judge's Report. First, Plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's finding that Plaintiff has not shown evidence to support the conclusion that he meets all the criteria of Listing 1.04A. See ECF Nos. 19 at PageID#: 943-45; 18 at PageID#: 938-39. Second, Plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's recommendation that the Court find that the ALJ did not err by not explicitly stating the level of weight assigned to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Neely. See ECF Nos. 19 at PageID#: 941-42; 18 at PageID#: 936 n.3. Defendant opposes the objections on grounds that Plaintiff has failed to raise any issues in his objections that were not adequately addressed by the Commissioner's decision that is supported by substantial evidence in the record. ECF No. 20. The Court reviews Plaintiff's objections de novo.

         A. Listing 1.04

         The magistrate judge recommends that the Court find that, the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff's “back impairment did not meet or medically equal the requirements of Listing 1.04A” is supported by substantial evidence because “Plaintiff failed to cite evidence supporting the conclusion that he meets all the criteria of Listing 1.04A, namely, evidence showing atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness that is supported by circumferential measurements.” ECF No. 18 at PageID#: 937-39. The magistrate judge also found that, the ALJ, in determining whether Plaintiff met the requirements of Listing 1.04A, “was not required to explicitly spell out every consideration that went into his determination regarding the applicability of Listing 1.04A.” Id. at PageID#: 938-39.

         Plaintiff raises two arguments in his first objection to the magistrate judge's recommendation. For purposes of efficiency, the Court addresses Plaintiff's latter argument first.

         1. Plaintiff's First Argument

         Plaintiff contends that because the ALJ's discussion of Listing 1.04A-at Step Three of the five-step sequential analysis-was brief, it was not supported by substantial evidence in the ...


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