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Riley v. Barnhart

March 25, 2010

JOHN J. RILEY PLAINTIFF,
v.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jones, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. Procedural History

On October 20, 2003, John J. Riley (hereinafter "Plaintiff") filed an application for Social Security benefits, which was ultimately denied by the Social Security Administration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter "ALJ"), resulting in a denial of benefits via an Unfavorable Decision, which was issued on April 29, 2005. Plaintiff then sought review by the Appeal Council however, his request for review was denied by Order dated September 2, 2005. Accordingly, the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits to Plaintiff became final on September 2, 2005, prompting the within action.

On November 2, 2005, Plaintiff filed a Complaint challenging the decisions below. An Answer was filed, subsequent to which, each party filed Motions for Summary Judgment. The matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Arnold C. Rapoport for a Report and Recommendation (hereinafter "R&R"). Upon review of the record, Judge Rapoport denied Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and granted Defendant's, prompting Plaintiff to file Objections to the R&R. On April 28, 2009, the matter was reassigned from the calendar of the Honorable R. Barclay Surrick to this Court. Further briefing was ordered and submitted, thereby rendering this case ripe for disposition. For the reasons which follow, this Court will deny Plaintiff's Objections and adopt the R&R of the Honorable Rapoport.

II. Standard of Review

In a Social Security matter such as this, "[j]udicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited." Przegon v. Barnhart, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8924, at **3-4 (E.D. Pa. 2006)(citations omitted). In that same vein, A district court judge may refer an appeal of a decision of the Commissioner to a magistrate judge. Within ten days after being served a copy of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, a party may file timely and specific objections thereto. The district court judge will then make a de novo determination of those portions of the report and recommendation to which objection is made. The district court judge may accept, reject, modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge, receive further evidence, or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions. In reviewing the Commissioner's decision, the district court is bound by the ALJ's findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate."

Watson v. Barnhart, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36286, at *3 (E.D. Pa. May 2, 2008)(citations omitted).

In this matter, Plaintiff raises four Objections to the Magistrate's R&R. (Doc. No. 11) Objection Nos. 2, 3 and 4 are verbatim recitations of issues raised in his summary judgment motion. In fact, in sole support of these Objections, Plaintiff writes that he "incorporates herein the arguments on this point contained herein and in the Brief accompanying his Motion for Summary Judgment." (Doc. No. 11, ¶¶ 2-3)*fn1 For purposes of de novo review, this Court is constrained to summarily reject Plaintiff's 2nd, 3rd and 4th Objections:

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72 provides that a party may serve and file "specific written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations." Local Rule of Civil Procedure 72.1 goes on to indicate that such written objections "shall specifically identify the portions of the proposed findings, recommendations or report to which objection is made and the basis for such objections." In other words, an objecting party must identify specific errors in the magistrate judge's analysis without simply rehashing arguments already raised to the magistrate judge.

*.*.*.*.

Repeatedly, courts, both within and outside of the Third Circuit, have held that objections which merely rehash an argument presented to and considered by a magistrate judge are not entitled to de novo review.

Morgan v. Astrue, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101092, at ** 7-8 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 30, 2009)(citations omitted).

Inasmuch as Plaintiff herein has failed to " . . . identify specific errors in the magistrate judge's analysis without simply rehashing arguments already raised to the magistrate judge," he is not entitled to further review of these issues. Id. at 7.

III. Discussion*fn2

Plaintiff's remaining (first) Objection pertains to the allegedly deficient analysis conducted by the ALJ with specific regard to the vocational expert's testimony in response to a hypothetical question posed by the ALJ about the classification of "security guard." Three pages of this Objection are cut and pasted from Plaintiff's Summary Judgment brief. However, the remainder of the Objection contains specific allegations regarding the Magistrate's review of the issue. Although these allegations of error could arguably be viewed as a "rehashing" of arguments previously raised before Judge Rapoport, this Court will address same.

Preliminarily, "[f]inal determinations of the ultimate issue of a claimant's disability are reserved to the Commissioner." Hnat v. Barnhart, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18298, at *6 (E.D. Pa. July 26, 2005), citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.927. With specific regard to the issue at hand,

By its terms, SSR 00-4p, was designed to address the already-well-established (in this Circuit and elsewhere) obligation of an ALJ to develop the record during an adjudicative hearing. As that ruling explains:

When there is an apparent unresolved conflict between VE [vocational expert] or VS [vocational specialist] evidence and the DOT,*fn3 the adjudicator must elicit a reasonable explanation for the conflict before relying on the VE or VS evidence to support a determination or decision about whether the claimant is disabled. At the hearings level, as part of the adjudicator's duty to fully develop the record, the adjudicator will inquire, on the record, as to whether or not there is such consistency.

Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 556 (3d Cir. Pa. 2005)(citations omitted).

In this case, the following exchange occurred between the ALJ and the ...


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