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Patrick B. Lee v. Michael J. Astrue

October 17, 2012

PATRICK B. LEE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

Currently pending before the Court are Plaintiff Patrick B. Lee's Objections to the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Carol Sandra Moore Wells. For the following reasons, the Objections are overruled and the Commissioner of Social Security's decision is affirmed.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff protectively filed for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 301, et seq., on November 4, 2010. (R. 108--109 )*fn1 His claim alleged disability since August 31, 2010, due to a lateral meniscus tear and chronic synovitis of his left knee, hypertrophic synovitis of his right knee, degenerative changes of the acromioclavicular joint in his left shoulder, acromioclavicular arthritis and edema in his right shoulder, chronic headaches, and bilateral knee and shoulder injuries. (Id. at 108, 127.) The state agency denied Plaintiff's application on February 10, 2011, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (Id. at 38--39, 71--75.) Following a hearing, ALJ Deborah Mande denied Plaintiff benefits in a decision dated July 22, 2011. (Id. at 22--32, 43--69.) The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 20, 2011, (id. at 1--3), making the ALJ's ruling the final decision of the agency. 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

Plaintiff initiated the present civil action in this Court on February 14, 2012. Following referral by the undersigned, United States Magistrate Judge Carol Sandra Moore Wells issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R"), dated September 13, 2012, deeming Plaintiff's arguments meritless and recommending that the ALJ's decision be affirmed.

Plaintiff filed Objections to the R&R, on September 19, 2012, asserting the following:

(1) the Magistrate Judge does not address the fact that the ALJ ignored, indeed never even acknowledged, Dr. Ross's opinion, contained in her January 30, 2011 assessment, that Plaintiff could perform "no repetitive movements"; (2) the Magistrate Judge improperly affirmed the ALJ's rejection of Dr. Ross's opinion that Plaintiff could sit for a maximum of three to four hours in an eight-hour day; (3) the Magistrate Judge did not address the ALJ's failure to explain how or whether she considered Plaintiff's statement that he suffered from daily fatigue and must nap to relieve it; and (4) the Magistrate Judge improperly found that the ALJ's failure to consider the favorable impact of Plaintiff's lengthy work history on his credibility was not reversible error. Defendant filed a Response to these Objections on September 27, 2012, making them ripe for this Court's consideration.

II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW*fn2

A. Standard for Judicial Review of an ALJ's Decision

It is well-established that judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to determining whether "substantial evidence" supports the decision. Burnett v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 220 F.3d 112, 118 (3d Cir. 2000). "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, 564--65 (1988)). When making this determination, a reviewing court may not undertake a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision and may not re-weigh the evidence of record. Monsour Med. Ctr. v. Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1190 (3d Cir. 1986). In other words, even if the reviewing court, acting de novo, would have decided the case differently, the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed when supported by substantial evidence. Id. at 1190--91; see also Gilmore v. Barnhart, 356 F. Supp. 2d 509, 511 (E.D. Pa. 2005) (holding that the court's scope of review is "'limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether the record, as a whole, contains substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's findings of fact'") (quoting Schwartz v. Halter, 134 F. Supp. 2d 640, 647 (E.D. Pa. 2001)).

B. Standard of Review of Objections to a Report and Recommendation

Where 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 only those 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, a 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 v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980).

III. DISCUSSION

As set forth above, Plaintiff lodges four Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation. The Court considers each individually.

A. The Magistrate Judge's Failure to Address the ALJ's Ignoring Dr. Ross's Assessed Limitation on Plaintiff's Repetitive Movements

Via his first objection, Plaintiff disagrees with the Magistrate Judge's finding that the ALJ properly considered the opinion of Plaintiff's treating and board-certified orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Ross. Plaintiff goes on to argue that the ALJ ignored-indeed never even acknowledged-Dr. Ross's opinion, in her January 30, 2011 assessment, that Plaintiff could perform "no repetitive movements." This limitation, according to Plaintiff, is critical because it affects his dominant right hand, ...


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