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Cecil Lee Wilson v. Michael J. Astrue

May 23, 2011

CECIL LEE WILSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

Currently pending before the Court are Plaintiff Cecil Lee Wilson's Objections to the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Henry S. Perkin. For the following reasons, the Objections are overruled.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff originally filed his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq., on April 8, 2008. His claim alleged disability since May 31, 1999, due to acute myocardial infarction. The state agency denied Plaintiff's application on June 16, 2008, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Following a hearing on July 14, 2009, ALJ Deborah Mande denied Plaintiff benefits in a decision dated September 4, 2009. Upon Plaintiff's request for review, the Appeals Council affirmed on July 9, 2010, making the ALJ's ruling the final decision of the agency.

Plaintiff initiated the present civil action in this Court on September 7, 2010. His Request for Review set forth three alleged errors: (1) the ALJ erred in failing to schedule the testimony of a medical expert to evaluate whether Plaintiff's combined impairments equaled a listing of impairments; (2) the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff's statements concerning his impairments and their effect on his ability to work are not entirely credible and not supported by substantial evidence; and (3) the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff has a residual functional capacity for light work is not supported by substantial evidence and the ALJ erred in using an improper medical-vocational rule, especially in the failure to consider non-exertional factors. On March 29, 2011, Magistrate Judge Perkin issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") deeming these contentions meritless and suggesting that the ALJ's decision be affirmed.

Plaintiff filed Objections to the R&R, on April 13, 2011, asserting the following: (1) the R&R failed to give proper weight to the Plaintiff's subjective statements of limitation, particularly in light of his documented treatment record; (2) the R&R and the ALJ failed to accept claimant's statements of disability where the claimant's testimony was reasonably supported by the medical evidence and where Plaintiff was found disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs; (3) the Magistrate Judge erroneously adopted the ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments that appear in the Listing of Impairments, without input at the hearing from a medical expert; (4) the Magistrate Judge committed error of law in upholding the ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff has a residual functional capacity for light work; (5) the R&R failed to properly set forth the correct substantial evidence test used specifically in disability cases, setting forth only a limited version of that test; (6) the Magistrate Judge committed an error of law in not requiring a consultative examination, in that an opinion based on personal contemporaneous observation was not available; and (7) the Magistrate Judge's discussion of the evidence of record reiterated, "with approval, and without proper/adequate scrutiny, the ALJ's summary of the same, even quoting it verbatim," thereby failing to address the fact that the ALJ committed error by picking and choosing among the findings in the evidentiary record. (Pl.'s Objections pp. 1-6.) Defendant filed a Response to these Objections on April 26, 2011, thus making them ripe for this Court's consideration.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW*fn1

When a party makes a timely and specific objection to a portion of a report and recommendation by a United States Magistrate Judge, the district court is obliged to engage in de novo review of the issues raised on objection. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989). In so doing, the court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings and recommendations" contained in the report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The court may also, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, rely on the Magistrate Judge's proposed findings and recommendations. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980).

The Court's review of an ALJ's findings of fact, however, is limited to determining whether or not substantial evidence exists in the record to support the Commissioner's decision. Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999). Stated differently, "[t]his Court is bound by the ALJ's findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence on the record." Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999). "Substantial evidence 'does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552 (1988)).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Duplicative Objections (Objections 1-4)

Plaintiff's first, second, third, and fourth Objections allege, respectively, that: (1) the R&R and the ALJ failed to give proper weight to the Plaintiff's subjective statements of limitation where Plaintiff's testimony was reasonably supported by the medical evidence, his documented treatment record, and a finding by the Department of Veterans Affairs (Objections 1 & 2); (2) the R&R improperly adopted the ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal a Listing, even though the ALJ failed to consult a medical expert (Objection 3); and (3) the R&R erred by upholding the ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity for light work (Objection 4). In support of each of these Objections, however, Plaintiff relies, almost verbatim, on his argument as presented in his "Brief and Statement Issues in Support of Request for Review and Motion for Summary Judgment" provided to the Magistrate Judge. The current Objections contain no amplification of the argument or indication of why the R&R's reasoning, aside from adopting the ALJ's determination, was flawed.

"To obtain de novo determination of a magistrate's findings by a district court, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) requires both timely and specific objections to the report." Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6 (3d Cir. 1984). Pursuant to this statute, the district court must "make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) (emphasis added). Providing complete de novo review where the objections are general in nature and lack the specificity required by § 636(b)(1) would "undermine the efficiency the magistrate system was meant to contribute to the judicial process." Id. at 7. Thus, if objections to a report "merely reiterate arguments previously raised before a magistrate judge, de novo review is not required." Palmer v. Astrue, No. CIV.A.09-820, 2010 WL 1254266, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 31, 2010); see alsoRiley v. Barnhart, No. CIV.A.05-5731, 2010 WL 1186314, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 25, 2010) (holding that '[i]nasmuch 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"); Moran v. Astrue, No. CIV.A.08-2133, 2009 WL 3541001, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 30, 2009) (noting that an objecting party must do more than "simply rehash[ ] arguments already raised to the magistrate judge" to obtain de novo review).

A comparison of Plaintiff's Objections with Plaintiff's brief in support of his Request for Review reveals almost identical, indeed verbatim, arguments. For example, in Objection 1, the argument beginning with "Assessment of the credibility of an individual's statements . . ." and concluding with "heart attack on May 31, 1999" on pages one and two, are copied directly from the previous brief. Although the following sentence -- regarding the ALJ "picking and choosing statements" -- is new to this section, this same contention is repeated under Objection 7 and will thus be addressed at that time. Almost the entirety of Objection 2 is extracted directly from Plaintiff's previous brief, albeit with some alteration of the order of the sentences. Finally, Objections 3 and 4 show no substantive difference from the previously proffered arguments. Because such Objections fail to contain the specificity required by 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1) and simply rehash arguments already raised to the Magistrate Judge, this Court does not grant them de novo review. Moreover, upon general consideration of the portions of the R&R addressing such Objections, the Court finds no clear error or manifest injustice in the Magistrate ...


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