United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division
JAMES A. MONROE, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
B. Russell, Senior Judge
A. Monroe brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner of
Social Security's decision to deny his application for
disability insurance benefits. The Court referred
Monroe's action for a report and recommendation regarding
its appropriate disposition. See 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1). Subsequently, the Magistrate Judge recommended
that the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision and
dismiss Monroe's complaint. Monroe objects to that course
of action, arguing that the ALJ erred when she failed to
discuss, or even mention, the medical opinions of a
nontreating (but examining) source before deciding that he
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act. Having reviewed the record, the Court agrees.
Accordingly, the Court REJECTS the Magistrate Judge's
Report and Recommendation, [R. 30], and SUSTAINS James A.
Monroe's Objection, [R. 31]. The Commissioner's
decision is REVERSED and REMANDED pursuant to sentence four
of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further proceedings consistent
with this Memorandum Opinion.
A. Monroe, a United States Marine Corps veteran, applied for
disability benefits on January 3, 2014. [A.R. at 31.] He
claims that he has been unable to work since September 17,
2013. [Id.] Monroe's alleged disabilities
include degenerative disc disease, migraine headaches,
obesity, traumatic brain injury, depression, and
post-traumatic stress disorder. [Id. at 33.] The
Social Security Administration denied Monroe's initial
claim for disability insurance benefits on March 4, 2014,
and, upon reconsideration, adhered to that decision.
[Id. at 31.] Upon his request, Administrative Law
Judge Marci P. Eaton held a hearing on May 9, 2014.
[Id.] In addition to Monroe, the ALJ heard testimony
from Dr. Tom L. Wagner, a psychological expert, and James B.
Adams, a vocational expert. [Id. at 64, 68.]
denied Monroe's claim. [Id. at 39.] Using the
traditional five-step evaluation for disability benefits,
see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), the ALJ made
the following findings. First, the ALJ found that Monroe had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date. [A.R. at 33.] Second, Monroe has several severe
impairments, namely degenerative disc disease, migraine
headaches, obesity, traumatic brain injury, depression, and
post-traumatic stress disorder. [Id.] Third, the ALJ
found that Monroe's impairments do not meet or equal one
of the Commissioner's recognized impairments.
[Id. at 34.] Fourth, Monroe retains the residual
functional capacity to perform a range of sedentary work,
although not any past relevant work. [Id. at 34-38.]
Fifth, in light of his age, education, and work experience,
Monroe is able to perform jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy. [Id. at 38-39.] The
ALJ, therefore, determined that Monroe is not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. [Id. at 39.]
Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision on
October 20, 2014. [Id. at 10-13.] Accordingly, the
ALJ's denial became the final decision of the
Commissioner. Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378
F.3d 541, 543-44 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Miles v.
Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1399 (11th Cir. 1996)). Pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Monroe brought this action to
obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's decision.
[See R. 1 (Complaint).]
Court referred Monroe's action to Magistrate Judge Lanny
King for a report and recommendation regarding its
appropriate disposition. See 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1). The Magistrate Judge recommended that the Court
affirm the Commissioner's decision and dismiss
Monroe's complaint. [See R. 30 at 6 (Report and
Recommendation).] Monroe objects to that course of action.
[See R. 31 (Monroe's Objection).] Despite
enjoying the benefit of two extensions of time, the
Commissioner has declined to respond to Monroe's
objection. [See R. 34 (Order of December 13, 2016);
R. 35 (Order of December 13, 2016).]
well-settled that the Court reviews the objected-to portions
of a report and recommendation de novo. 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).
Its review of the Commissioner's determination is, of
course, more deferential. See 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); Blakley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d
399, 405 (6th Cir. 2009). The scope of that inquiry is
limited to (1) “whether the findings of the ALJ are
supported by substantial evidence” and (2)
“whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards.” Miller v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
811 F.3d 825, 833 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting Blakley,
581 F.3d at 405-06). “Substantial evidence” means
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Lindsley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 560 F.3d 601,
604 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Even if supported by substantial
evidence, however, “a decision of the Commissioner will
not be upheld where the [Social Security Administration]
fails to follow its own regulations and where that error
prejudices a claimant on the merits or deprives the claimant
of a substantial right.” Rabbers v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 582 F.3d 647, 651 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Bowen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 478 F.3d 742, 746
(6th Cir. 2007)).
case, Monroe argues that the ALJ erred when she failed to
discuss, or even mention, the opinions of Dr. Krista
Brooks-Horrar before deciding that he was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. [See R. 24
at 12-15 (Monroe's Memorandum of Law).] While conceding
that the ALJ never addressed Dr. Brooks-Horrar's
opinions, the Magistrate Judge held that the ALJ's
failure was, at worst, harmless because her opinions were
consistent with the ALJ's findings. [See R. 30
at 2- 3.] Monroe takes issue with that conclusion,
[see R. 31 at 2-4], and for good reason.
the Social Security Act, “the Commissioner determines
whether a claimant is disabled, ” and, therefore,
“entitled to benefits.” Blakley, 581
F.3d at 405 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). In evaluating a
claimant's status, the Commissioner has instructed ALJs
to consider all “medical opinions” offered in the
claimant's case. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(b)-(c). “Medical opinions” are
statements from “acceptable medical sources that
reflect judgments about the nature and severity” of the
claimant's impairment. Id. §
404.1527(a)(1). The ultimate weight assigned to, ...