Moran v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., Case No. 13–CV–13452.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
Writing for the CourtDENISE PAGE HOOD
Citation40 F.Supp.3d 896
PartiesKimberly Lynn MORAN, Plaintiff, v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
Decision Date22 August 2014
Docket NumberCase No. 13–CV–13452.

40 F.Supp.3d 896

Kimberly Lynn MORAN, Plaintiff,

Case No. 13–CV–13452.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division.

Signed Aug. 22, 2014

Claimant's motion granted and Commissioner's motion denied.

[40 F.Supp.3d 899]

Diane M. Kwitoski, Kwitoski & Plagens PLLC, Ferndale, MI, for Plaintiff.

John L. Martin, Social Security Administration, Chicago, IL, Vanessa Miree Ausa Mays, U.S. Attorney's Office, Detroit, MI, for Defendant.

DENISE PAGE HOOD, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Magistrate Judge Patricia T. Morris's Report and Recommendation. [Docket No. 16, filed July 30, 2014] In this Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Morris recommended that this Court GRANT Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 10, filed January 15, 2014], DENY the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 13, March 12, 2014], REVERSE the Commissioner's Decision, and REMAND this matter pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Neither party has filed an objection within the time provided under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and E.D. Mich. LR 72.1(d).

Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited in scope to determining whether the Commissioner employed the proper legal criteria in reaching his conclusion. Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383 (6th Cir.1984). The credibility findings of an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) must not be discarded lightly and should be accorded great deference. Hardaway v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 823 F.2d 922, 928 (6th Cir.1987). A district court's review of an ALJ's decision is not a de novo review. The district court may not resolve conflicts in the evidence nor decide questions of credibility. Garner, 745 F.2d at 387. The decision of the Commissioner must be upheld if supported by substantial evidence, even if the record might support a contrary decision or if the district court arrives at a different conclusion.

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Smith v. Secretary of HHS, 893 F.2d 106, 108 (6th Cir.1989); Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir.1986).

The Court has had an opportunity to review this matter and finds that the Magistrate Judge reached the correct conclusion for the proper reasons. The Magistrate Judge reviewed the ALJ's findings and the record thoroughly in reaching her conclusion that the matter should be remanded because the ALJ's determination was “not supported by substantial evidence and should therefore be remanded to gather expert guidance concerning whether Plaintiff's impairments equaled a Listing impairment.” [Docket No. 16, Pg ID 500]

As recommended by the Magistrate Judge, this matter is remanded to the Commissioner for the ALJ to develop the record, as necessary, and gather expert guidance concerning whether the Plaintiff's impairments equaled a Listing impairment, as needed. The Supreme Court recognizes only two kinds of remands involving social security cases-those pursuant to sentence four and those pursuant to sentence six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 99, 111 S.Ct. 2157, 115 L.Ed.2d 78 (1991); Sullivan v. Finkelstein, 496 U.S. 617, 626, 110 S.Ct. 2658, 110 L.Ed.2d 563 (1990). The Supreme Court concluded that Congress's explicit delineation in § 405(g) regarding circumstances under which remands are authorized clearly showed that Congress intended to limit the district court's authority to enter remand orders in these two types of cases. Melkonyan, 501 U.S. at 100, 111 S.Ct. 2157. Sentence four allows a district court to remand in conjunction with a judgment affirming, modifying or reversing the Commissioner's decision. Id. at 99–100, 111 S.Ct. 2157. Sentence four remands are appropriate in situations where the decision maker incorrectly applied the regulations in denying disability benefits. See Faucher v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 17 F.3d 171, 174 (6th Cir.1994). In such situations the district court must reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand the matter for further proceedings in order to correct the error. Id. A judgment must be entered immediately with a sentence four remand and the district court does not retain jurisdiction during the administrative proceedings on remand. Melkonyan, 501 U.S. at 101–02, 111 S.Ct. 2157. Failure to remand under sentence four and retention of jurisdiction is error. Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 299, 113 S.Ct. 2625, 125 L.Ed.2d 239 (1993). A sentence four remand is a judgment for the plaintiff. Id. at 302, 113 S.Ct. 2625 (citations omitted)


IT IS ORDERED that the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Patricia Morris [Docket No. 16, filed July 30, 2014] is ACCEPTED and ADOPTED.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 10, filed January 15, 2014] is GRANTED.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 13, March 12, 2014] is DENIED.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and this action is REMANDED pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


[40 F.Supp.3d 901]


AND RECOMMENDATION 1 PATRICIA T. MORRIS, United States Magistrate Judge.

In light of the entire record in this case, I suggest that substantial evidence does not support the Commissioner's determination that Plaintiff is not disabled. Accordingly, IT IS RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment be GRANTED, that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment be DENIED, and that the case be remanded to the Commissioner under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

II. REPORT A. Introduction and Procedural History

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), E.D. Mich. LR 72.1(b)(3), and by Notice of Reference, this case was referred to this magistrate judge for the purpose of reviewing the Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff's claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). This matter is currently before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 10, 13.)

Kimberly Moran (“Plaintiff”) was thirty-seven years old at the time of the most recent administrative hearing. (Transcript, Doc. 6 at 56.) Plaintiff worked at Nationwide Income Tax in 1994, (Tr. at 59, 179), and as a meat wrapper and stock clerk at Meijer from 1997 until 2004, when she suffered the back injury leading to this disability claim, (Tr. at 60–62, 183, 223). She testified that she returned to Meijer for roughly eight months in 2007 as a gas station monitor.2 (Tr. at 60–64, 232.) On February 1, 2011, Plaintiff filed the present claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. (Tr. at 169.) She alleged that she became unable to work on August 8, 2007. (Tr. at 169.)

The claim was denied at the initial administrative stage. (Tr. at 131.) In denying Plaintiff's claims, the Commissioner considered discogenic and degenerative back disorders. ( Id.) On November 28, 2011, Plaintiff appeared before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Patricia S. McKay, who considered the application for benefits de novo. (Tr. at 41–122.) In a decision dated March 17, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. at 19, 34.) Plaintiff requested a review of this decision on April 11, 2012. (Tr. at 15.)

The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision, see Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 543–44 (6th Cir.2004), on June 18, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. at 1–3.) On August 13, 2013 Plaintiff filed the instant suit seeking

[40 F.Supp.3d 902]

judicial review of the Commissioner's unfavorable decision. (Doc. 1.)

B. Standard of Review

The Social Security system has a two-tiered structure in which the administrative agency handles claims and the judiciary merely reviews the factual determinations to ensure they are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). The administrative process provides multiple opportunities for reviewing the state agency's initial determination. The Plaintiff can first appeal the decision to the Social Security Agency, then to an ALJ, and finally to the Appeals Council. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 142, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987). Once this administrative process is complete, an unsuccessful claimant may file an action in federal district court. Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 524–28, 110 S.Ct. 885, 107 L.Ed.2d 967 (1990), superseded by statute on other grounds, Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Pub.L. No. 104–193, 110 Stat. 2105; Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 537 (6th Cir.1986) (en banc).

This Court has original jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the Commissioner's final administrative decision. The statute limits the scope of judicial review, requiring the Court to “ ‘affirm the Commissioner's conclusions absent a determination that the Commissioner has failed to apply the correct legal standards or has made findings of fact unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.’ ” Longworth v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 402 F.3d 591, 595 (6th Cir.2005) (quoting Warner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 375 F.3d 387, 390 (6th Cir.2004)). See also Walters v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir.1997). The court's review of the decision for substantial evidence does not permit it to “ ‘try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or decide questions of credibility.’ ” Ulman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 693 F.3d 709, 713 (6th Cir.2012) (quoting Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir.2007)). See also Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir.1984).

The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Therefore, a court may not...

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