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Knapp v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 28, 2019

PAUL RAYMOND KNAPP, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER

          Benita Y. Pearson, United States District Judge

         An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Plaintiff Paul Raymond Knapp's applications for period of disability (“POD”), disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”) after a hearing in the above-captioned case. 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. The claimant sought judicial review of the Commissioner's decision, and the case was automatically referred to Magistrate Judge Jonathan D. Greenberg for preparation of a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Rule 72.2(b)(1). On May 13, 2019, the magistrate judge submitted a Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 17) recommending that the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision. Plaintiff filed an Objection to the Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 18), and the Commissioner replied (ECF No. 19), stating that he[1] would stand on the grounds argued in his merits brief (see ECF No. 15). For the reasons that follow, the Court adopts the Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 17) and affirms the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.

         I. Background

         Magistrate Judge Greenberg's Report and Recommendation thoroughly narrates the procedural history, describes the medical evidence, and analyzes the merits of Plaintiff's appeal. It explains that the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claims because he found, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity (“RFC”), that Plaintiff can still participate in the national economy, and he is therefore not disabled. ECF No. 17 at PageID#: 491; ECF No. 10 at PageID#: 69. The ALJ acknowledged Plaintiff's severe impairments[2] and moderate limitations, [3] but concluded that “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform.” ECF No. 10 at PageID#: 74 (citations to the Code of Federal Regulations omitted). Accordingly, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's benefits applications. Id. at PageID#: 76.

         Appealing that decision, Plaintiff argued that the ALJ's decision did not adequately account for the medical opinion of the consultative psychologist Dr. Robert F. Dallara, Jr., when he determined the Plaintiff's RFC.[4] ECF No. 13. The Commissioner responded and urged, first, that the ALJ was not obligated to adopt all of Dr. Dallara's assessed limitations, and second, that the ALJ's findings and conclusions were not inconsistent with Dr. Dallara's opinion. ECF No. 15.

         The magistrate judge agreed with the Commissioner and stated, “[A]lthough the ALJ assigned ‘great weight' to Dr. Dallara's opinion, he was not required to include all of Dr. Dallara's limitations in the RFC or explain why he did not adopt all of the limitations.” ECF No. 17 at PageID#: 497 (quotation marks, citations, and alteration omitted). The magistrate judge further observed that, “to the extent there are any deviations between the RFC and Dr. Dallara's conclusions, the ALJ provided an explanation in the decision.” Id. The magistrate judge concluded by reporting that “the ALJ clearly articulated his reasons for finding Knapp capable of performing work as set forth in the RFC and these reasons are supported by substantial evidence, ” and recommending that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed. Id. at PageID#: 503.

         Plaintiff filed a single objection (ECF No. 18), in which he reiterated the argument that he made in the first instance: “The Magistrate Judge's finding that the ALJ properly reconciled the RFC with Dr. Dallara's opinion should be rejected.” ECF No. 18 at PageID#: 505. In response, the Commissioner stated that he would rely on his merits brief. ECF No. 19.

         II. Standard of Review

         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 administrative law judge. Hephner v. Mathews, 574 F.2d 359, 362 (6th Cir. 1978); Bartyzel v. Comm'r 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 decisionmakers. 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).

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff lodges a single objection to the Report and Recommendation, but his memorandum advances two distinct arguments. Both suggest the same conclusion: that the ALJ should have more clearly reconciled his decision with Dr. Dallara's medical opinion, and the failure to do so renders his decision unsupported by substantial evidence. See ECF No. 18.

         A. Purported Deviations from the Medical Opinion

         In the Report and Recommendation, the magistrate judge stated, “[A]lthough the ALJ assigned ‘great weight' to Dr. Dallara's opinion, he was not required to include all of Dr. Dallara's limitations in the RFC or explain why he did not adopt all of the limitations.” ECF No. 17 at PageID#: 497 (quotation marks, ...


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