The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Curtis L. Collier
Plaintiff Margaret Vinson brought this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a decision of Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security. Plaintiff moved for judgment on the pleadings (Court File No. 15), and Defendant moved for summary judgment (Court File No. 19). Magistrate Judge William B. Mitchell Carter filed a report & recommendation ("R&R") (Court File No. 21) recommending the Court rule in favor of Defendant. Plaintiff filed objections (Court File No. 22). Defendant responded by asking the Court to adopt the R&R for the reasons stated in the R&R (Court File No. 23). Having reviewed the R&R, the parties' briefs, the applicable, and the record, the Court will GRANT Plaintiff's motion (Court File No. 15), DENY Defendant's motion (Court File No. 19), REJECT the R&R's conclusion (Court File No. 21), and REMAND this case to the Commissioner of Social Security.
This Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the R&R to which objection is made and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the magistrate judge's findings or recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The Court's standard of review is essentially the same as the magistrate judge's -- review is limited to determining if the findings of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") are supported by substantial evidence and if proper legal standards were used. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Rogers v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 486 F.3d 234, 241 (6th Cir. 2007); Brainard v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989). 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, 486 F.3d at 241. If supported by substantial evidence, the Court must affirm the ALJ's findings, even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. Colvin v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 727, 730 (6th Cir. 2007); Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 475 (6th Cir. 2003). The ALJ need not discuss every aspect of the record or explain every finding at length but must "articulate with specificity reasons for the findings and conclusions that he or she makes" to facilitate meaningful judicial review. Bailey v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 1999 WL 96920, *4, 1999 U.S. App. LEXIS 1621, *15 (6th Cir. Feb. 2, 1999).
II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff applied for disability benefits on November 16, 2004 (Tr. 13). After her application was denied, she sought a hearing, which was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on December 6, 2006 (Tr. 13.). Although Plaintiff initially listed the onset date for her disability as October 19, 2004, she amended it to May 31, 2005 before the hearing, and then amended it again during the hearing, to January 1, 2006. The ALJ issued a written decision concluding Plaintiff was not under a disability entitling her to Social Security disability payments (Tr. 13-20).
The ALJ followed the Social Security Administration's five-step evaluation process to determine if Plaintiff was disabled (Tr. 14).
At step one, he determined Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date of the amended alleged onset date (Tr. 15).
At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff has a medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments that is severe (Tr. 15). Specifically, Plaintiff has regional enteritis or Crohn's disease. The ALJ described Chohn's disease and summarized testimony from the hearing and the medical evidence in the record (Tr. 15-17).
At step three, the ALJ determined the impairments do not meet one of the impairments listed in a federal regulation, which would automatically qualify her as disabled (Tr. 14, 17).
Prior to conducting step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), which is an individual's ability to do work activities despite limitations from her impairments (Tr. 14-15). To determine the RFC, the ALJ reviewed Plaintiff's medical record and her testimony at the hearing, which he found to be "not entirely credible" in light of the medical record (Tr. 17-18). The ALJ found Plaintiff's subjective allegations to be unsupported by the record as a whole (Tr. 18).
The ALJ concluded Plaintiff has the RFC to perform "skilled light work activity." (Tr. 17). Specifically, he determined Plaintiff's limitations restrict her to lifting 15 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently, sitting up to six hours, and standing and/or walking up to four hours (Tr. 18).
The ALJ made these determinations by affording "significant weight" to the opinion of Dr. Emelito Pinga, who performed a consultive examination on Plaintiff. Dr. Pinga opined Plaintiff could sit six hours and walk or stand four hours in an eight-hour workday and also opined there would be limitations in any frequent lifting of five to 10 pounds or occasional lifting of 15 pounds (Tr. 17). The ALJ found Dr. Pinga's opinion is "supported by thorough medical evidence and the clinical and objective findings found in the record, and is consistent with the record as a whole." (Tr. 18-19). State agency review physicians also provided input, determining Plaintiff's restrictions were consistent with medium work activity, which involves a higher level of exertion than light work activity (Tr. 19). However, the ALJ stated he did not accord their ...