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Hoffman v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 24, 2018

THOMAS H. HOFFMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HONORABLE SARA LIOI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the Amended Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 17 (“R&R”)) of Magistrate Judge George J. Limbert with respect to plaintiff's complaint for judicial review of defendant's denial of his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Insurance Income (“SSI”). Plaintiff filed objections to the R&R (Doc. No. 18 (“Obj.”)) and defendant filed a response to the objections (Doc. No. 19 (“Resp.”)). Upon de novo review and for the reasons set forth below, the Court hereby overrules plaintiff's objections, accepts the R&R, and dismisses this case.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI on October 31, 2013. (Doc. No. 12 (Transcript [“Tr.”]) 255-63; 264-69.[1]) He alleged disability beginning March 31, 2009 (for DIB) and October 4, 2013 (for SSI) due to issues with walking because of hip replacement surgery and the inability to walk, stand, or sit for any length of time. (Id. 294.) The applications were denied initially (id. 196-209), and upon reconsideration (id. 212-23). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id. 226-28.) The hearing, at which plaintiff appeared (represented by counsel), was conducted on February 10, 2016. The hearing transcript is in the record. (Id. 108-47.) On March 10, 2016, the ALJ issued her decision, determining that plaintiff was not disabled under the relevant statutes. (Id. 90-103.)

         Plaintiff timely filed the instant action, seeking judicial review. Plaintiff, represented by counsel, filed a statement of errors with supporting memorandum (Doc. No. 13 (“Pl. Br.”)), and defendant filed a response brief on the merits (Doc. No. 14 (“Def. Br.”)).

         On July 5, 2018, Magistrate Judge Limbert issued his R&R, recommending that defendant's decision be affirmed because it applied the appropriate legal standards and was supported by substantial evidence.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         This Court's review of the Magistrate Judge's R&R is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), which requires a de novo decision as to those portions of the R&R to which objection is made. “An ‘objection' that does nothing more than state a disagreement with a magistrate's suggested resolution, or simply summarizes what has been presented before, is not an ‘objection' as that term is used in this context.” Aldrich v. Bock, 327 F.Supp.2d 743, 747 (E.D. Mich. 2004). See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3) (“[t]he district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to[]”); Local Rule 72.3(b) (any objecting party shall file “written objections which shall specifically identify the portions of the proposed findings, recommendations, or report to which objection is made and the basis for such objections[]”).

         Judicial review is limited to a determination of whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether there is “substantial evidence” in the record as a whole to support the decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Longworth v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir. 2005). “Substantial evidence is defined as ‘more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994)). If there is substantial evidence to support the defendant's decision, it must be affirmed even if the reviewing court might have resolved any issues of fact differently and even if the record could also support a decision in plaintiff's favor. Crisp v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 790 F.2d 450, 453 n.4 (6th Cir. 1986); Buxton v. Halter, 246 F.3d 762, 772 (6th Cir. 2001) (“The findings of the Commissioner are not subject to reversal merely because there exists in the record substantial evidence to support a different conclusion.”) (citations omitted).

         B. Analysis

         Plaintiff raises a single objection to the R&R. He asserts that the R&R commits reversible error by concluding that the ALJ attributed the appropriate weight to the three treating source opinions of Dr. Louis Keppler. Plaintiff argues that the inconsistency and lack of support in the doctor's treatment records that was pointed out by the ALJ, and accepted by the R&R, are “trivial” because “the longstanding clinical relationship between Dr. Keppler and the Plaintiff allowed Dr. Keppler to bring to bear a level of knowledge not exhaustively detailed in his treatment records.” (Obj. at 658.) Plaintiff argues that the ALJ and the R&R should have fully credited Dr. Keppler's conclusion that plaintiff “is unable to sustain a full eight hour workday[, ]” (id.), and is, therefore, disabled.

         “The treating physician rule requires the ALJ to assign a treating physician's opinion controlling weight if it is ‘well-supported by medically acceptable clinic and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the claimant's] case record.'” Perry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 17-4182, 2018 WL 2470915, at *3 (6th Cir. June 4, 2018) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)) (alteration in original) (further citation omitted). If the ALJ does not assign controlling weight to a treating source opinion, he or she must give “good reasons” for discounting the opinion. Biestek v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 880 F.3d 778, 785 (6th Cir. 2017) (cited by Perry). These reasons must be “sufficiently specific to make clear to any subsequent reviewers the weight given to the treating physician's opinion and the reasons for that weight.” Austin v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 714 Fed.Appx. 569, 573 (6th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted).

         In addition, only medical opinions must be given controlling weight, not the treating source's opinion that one is “totally unable to work.” Andres v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 17-4070, 2018 WL 2017281, at *2 (6th Cir. Apr. 30, 2018); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(a)(1) (“Medical opinions are statements from acceptable medical sources that reflect judgments about the nature and severity of your impairment(s) . . . .”); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(1) (“We are responsible for making the determination or decision about whether you meet the statutory definition of disability. . . . ...


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