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Mason v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 13, 2019

RHONDA S. MASON, Plaintiff,



         The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff Rhonda S. Mason's application for period of disability (“POD”) and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, 1381 et seq. (“Act”). Plaintiff sought review of the Commissioner's decision, and the case was referred to Magistrate Judge Jonathan D. Greenburg for preparation of a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1383(c)(3), 42 U.S.C. §405(g), and Local Rule 72.2(b)(1). The Magistrate Judge submitted an R&R that recommends this Court affirm the final decision of the Commissioner. Doc. 21. Plaintiff filed an objection, and Defendant filed a response. Docs. 22, 23. For the following reasons, the Court hereby overrules the objection and ADOPTS the report and recommendation of the Magistrate Judge.

         The R&R adequately states the factual and procedural background of this case. Plaintiff has demonstrated no error in that background, so the Court will not reiterate those sections herein.


         When a magistrate judge submits an R&R, 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 to the R&R must be specific, not general, in order to focus the court's attention upon contentious issues. Howard v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991). The Court's review of the 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). 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. (citing Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938); Besaw v. Sec'y of Health & Human Services, 966 F.2d 1028, 1030 (6th Cir. 1992) (per curiam)).

         If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, a reviewing court must affirm the decision even if it would decide the matter differently. Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & 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 go 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 & 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).


         Here, the ALJ issued a final decision in May 2017, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant time period from September 3, 2013 through May 18, 2017. Thus, social security benefits were denied.

         Plaintiff filed an objection, arguing that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. Doc. 22. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ, and thus the Magistrate Judge, erred in that the ALJ failed to provide good reasons for giving less than controlling weight to the August 2015 of Dr. Kaza, Plaintiff's treating physician. Id.

         Defendant disagrees, and maintains that the ALJ properly considered Dr. Kaza's opinion. Doc. 21 (citing Doc. 14, p. 11-13). The ALJ observed this opinion was inconsistent with Dr. Kaza's own treatment notes, as well as the other opinion evidence in the record. Defendant agrees with the ALJ that the record as a whole paints a less-restrictive picture of Plaintiff's mental functioning abilities than does Dr. Kaza's August 2015 opinion.

         A treating source opinion must be given “controlling weight” if such opinion (1) “is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques” and (2) “is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the] case record.” Gayheart v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 710 F.3d 365, 376 (6th Cir. 2013); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). However, “a finding that a treating source medical opinion …is inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the case record means only that the opinion is not entitled to ‘controlling weight,' not that the opinion should be rejected.” Blakely v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399 (6th Cir. 2009). Indeed, “[t]reating source medical opinions are still entitled to deference and must be weighed using all of the factors provided in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527 and 416.927.” Blakely, 581 F.3d at 408.

         If the ALJ determines a treating source opinion is not entitled to controlling weight, “the ALJ must provide ‘good reasons' for discounting [the opinion], reasons that are ‘sufficiently specific to make clear to any subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the treating source's medical opinion and the reasons for that weight.'” Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 242 (6th Cir. 2007). The Sixth Circuit has held that the failure to articulate “good reasons” for discounting a treating physician's opinion “denotes a lack of substantial evidence, even where the conclusion of the ALJ may be justified based on the record.” Rogers, 486 F.3d at 243.

         Nonetheless, the opinion of a treating physician must be based on sufficient medical data, and upon detailed clinical and diagnostic test evidence. See Harris v. Heckler, 756 F.2d 431, 435 (6th Cir. 1985); Bogle v. Sullivan, 998 F.2d 342, 347, 348 (6th Cir. 1993); Blakely, 581 F.3d at 406. Moreover, the “treating physician rule” only applies to medical opinions. “If the treating physician instead submits an opinion on an issue reserved to the Commissioner - such as whether the claimant is disabled, unable to work, the claimant's RFC, or the application of vocational factors - [the ALJ's] decision need only ‘explain the consideration given to the treating source's opinion.'” Johnson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 535 Fed. App'x 498, 505 (6th Cir. 2013). The opinion, however, “is not entitled to any particular weight.” Turner, 381 Fed. App'x at 493. See also Curler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 561 Fed. App'x 464, 471 (6th Cir. 2014).

         Moreover, an ALJ must consider the findings and opinions of the state agency medical consultants, because the “Federal or State agency medical or psychological consultants are highly qualified and experts in Social Security disability evaluation.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513a(b)(1). When doing so, an ALJ will evaluate the findings using the relevant factors in §§ 404.1520b, 404.1520c and 404.1527, such as the consultant's medical specialty and expertise, the supporting evidence in the case record, consistency of the consultant's opinion with evidence from other sources in the record, supporting explanations the medical or psychological consultant provides, and any other factors relevant to the weighing of the opinions. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513a(b)(2). Finally, an ALJ must explain in ...

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