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Walther v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 29, 2018

Brittany Walther, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Bowman, M.J.

          ORDER

          MICHAEL R. BARRETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court upon the Magistrate Judge's February 20, 2018 Report and Recommendation (“R&R”), which recommends that the decision of the Defendant Commissioner be affirmed and this matter be closed on the docket of the Court. (Doc. 16).

         Notice was given to the parties under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) (Doc. 16, PageID1198). Plaintiff Walther timely filed objections to the R&R on March 6, 2018. (Doc. 17). The Defendant Commissioner did not respond to the objections, despite an opportunity to do so. This matter is now ripe for review.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         When objections to a magistrate judge's report are received on a dispositive matter, the assigned 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 decision; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Id. See also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         I. BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff, who has no work history, filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) due to alleged mental and physical impairments. Finding that Plaintiff retains residual functioning capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work, with certain limitations, the ALJ denied her claim. The Magistrate Judge provided a comprehensive summary of the administrative record and the same will not be repeated here except to the extent necessary to address Plaintiff's objections.

         Plaintiff asks that this Court “carefully review the arguments set forth in Plaintiff's Statement of Specific Errors [Doc. 10] in addition to the arguments presented herein.” (Doc. 17; PageID# 1141). It is not clear whether Plaintiff is attempting to incorporate by reference all previously asserted grounds for reversal in her objections. Regardless, the Court will only consider Plaintiff's specific objections to the R&R. Renchen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 1:13-cv-752, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29910, at *3-4 (S.D. Ohio Mar. 11, 2015) (“Merely restating arguments previously presented, stating a disagreement with a magistrate judge's suggested resolution, or simply summarizing what has been presented before is not a specific objection that alerts the district court to the alleged errors on the part of the magistrate judge.”).

         Plaintiff raises one specific objection to the R&R: “the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the mental health opinions provided by the treating source doctors, ” Dr. Andrew Smith (treating psychologist) and Dr. Rina Mina (treating rheumatologist). (Doc. 17; PageID 1140).[1]

         The Magistrate Judge correctly observed that, in evaluating opinion evidence, “[t]he ALJ ‘must' give a treating source opinion controlling weight if the treating source opinion is ‘well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques' and is ‘not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the] case record.'” Blakley v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir.2009) (quoting Wilson v. Commissioner, 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir.2004). If the ALJ does not accord controlling weight to a treating physician, the ALJ must still determine how much weight is appropriate by considering a number of factors, including the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination, the nature and extent of the treatment relationship, supportability of the opinion, consistency of the opinion with the record as a whole, and any specialization of the treating physician. Wilson, 378 F.3d at 544; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2).

         Furthermore, an ALJ must “always give good reasons in [the ALJ's] notice of determination or decision for the weight [the ALJ] give[s] [the claimant's] treating source's opinion.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2); but see Tilley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 09-6081, 2010 WL 3521928, at *6 (6th Cir.Aug.31, 2010) (indicating that, under Blakely and the good reason rule, an ALJ is not required to explicitly address all of the six factors within 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2) for weighing medical opinion evidence within the written decision).

         In recommending that the Commission's decision be affirmed, the Magistrate Judge cited multiple “good reasons” for discounting the opinions of the treating sources, which were first noted by the ALJ. In her objections, Plaintiff takes issue with the three “good reasons” offered: (1) the medical source statement “skewed the meaning of mild and moderate as those terms are defined by Social Security regulations”; (2) Dr. Smith's opinion was inconsistent with the “conservative nature of Ms. Walther's mental health treatment”; and (3) Dr. Smith opined that Plaintiff's limitations “existed since September 30, 2009, even though [he] began treatment with Ms. Walther in March of 2013.” (Doc. 17; PageID 1141-42). Plaintiff asserts that the foregoing “good reasons” offered by the ALJ do not satisfy the procedural requirements necessary for discrediting the opinions of a treating source doctor. (Doc. 17: PageID# 1141). The Court disagrees.

         First, Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's conclusion that Dr. Smith skewed the meanings of “mild and moderate as those terms are defined by Social Security regulations.” (Id.) By way of additional background, it appears that Dr. Smith completed an “attorney-generated questionnaire regarding [Plaintiff's] abilities to work from a mental standpoint.” (Doc. 8-2; PageID# 55). The ALJ observed that counsel “skewed” the ...


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