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Holmes v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 24, 2018

EMILY HOLMES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HONORABLE SARA LIOI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) of Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Parker (Doc. No. 17) with respect to plaintiff's complaint for judicial review of defendant's denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, 1381, et seq. (the “Act”). 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 her application for DIB on October 27, 2015. (Doc. No. 11 (Transcript [“Tr.”]) 273-76.[1]) The application was denied initially (id. 174-82), and upon reconsideration (id. 185-91). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id. 192-93.) The hearing, at which plaintiff appeared (represented by counsel), was conducted on December 21, 2016. The hearing transcript is in the record. (Id. 102-38.) On February 1, 2017, the ALJ issued his decision, determining that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Id. 78-96.)

         Plaintiff timely filed the instant action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review. Plaintiff, represented by counsel, filed a brief on the merits (Doc. No. 13 (“Pl. Br.”)), and defendant filed a response brief on the merits (Doc. No. 16 (“Def. Br.”)).

         On June 11, 2018, Magistrate Judge Parker issued his R&R, recommending that defendant's decision be affirmed because the ALJ's finding that plaintiff's mental impairment does not satisfy the paragraph B and C criteria of Listing 12.04 was supported by substantial evidence. (Doc. No. 17.)

         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 raised a single challenge in her brief on the merits, namely, that the ALJ erred in concluding that her conditions did not meet or medically equal the criteria of Listing 12.04. The R&R meticulously set forth the relevant record evidence upon which the ALJ's factual findings were based (R&R at 786-801), and concluded that this constituted “substantial evidence” for denying plaintiff's DIB application.

         In her objections, plaintiff argues that the R&R “did not fully evaluate equivalency to Listing 12.04.” (Obj. at 814.) In particular, plaintiff asserts that, based upon the findings of Pamela Pardon, a mental health nurse, [2] plaintiff satisfies the “B” criteria of Listing 12.04 because plaintiff has “marked limitations in interacting and relating to others, and in attending to and completing tasks.” (Obj. at 816.).[3] Plaintiff made the same argument in her brief on the merits. But, as pointed out by the R&R, Nurse Pardon's assessment was accorded only partial weight by the ALJ, who recognized that she was not considered an “acceptable medical source.” (R&R at 808.) Nonetheless, the ALJ addressed Nurse Pardon's assessments in considerable detail in light of the other record evidence (see Tr. 91-92), and expressly stated that her “opinion has been fully considered, . . . in order to gain further insight into the severity of the [plaintiff's] limitations pursuant to SSR 06-03p.” (Id. 92.)

         It is within the ALJ's “discretion to determine the proper weight to accord opinions from ‘other sources' such as nurse practitioners.” Cruse v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 502 F.3d 532, 541 (6th Cir. 2007) (also explaining that, with the growth of managed care and its focus on containing costs, “medical sources who are not ‘acceptable medical sources,' such as nurse practitioners . . . have increasingly assumed a greater ...


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