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Gustin v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 2, 2015

KAREN S. GUSTIN, Plaintiff,


MALACHY E MANNION, District Judge.

Presently before the court is a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") from Magistrate Judge Cohn recommending that the plaintiff's appeal be denied; the Commissioner's decision be affirmed; and, that the case be closed. (Doc. 25). Upon consideration of the objections presented in the plaintiff's appeal, the plaintiff's appeal is DENIED.


The plaintiff's claim is based upon neck pain, back pain, and mental impairment. The plaintiff was initially prescribed opiates in 2009 for abdominal pain. In 2010, she was involved in a car accident where she was visibly intoxicated. Toxicology tests revealed the presence of cannabinoids and opiates. She suffered broken ribs in the crash and was prescribed a higher doses of opiates. Upon recovery from her rib injuries, her opiate prescription was reduced and her mental functioning improved.

By the end of 2011, the plaintiff had begun receiving treatment from a different doctor, who allowed her to continue her high doses of opiates. In 2012, Dr. Czulada began treating her and despite the plaintiff's request to increased dosages, Dr. Czulada attempted to decrease her dosages, believing her levels to be excessive.

On April 27, 2011, the plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits. (Tr. 131-35), which was denied on October 4, 2011 by the Bureau of Disability Determination. The plaintiff subsequently requested a hearing. (Tr. 90-91). The ALJ held her hearing on February 13, 2014, at which a vocational expert offered testimony. (Tr. 30-70). On March 6, 2014, the ALJ determined that the plaintiff was not disabled, and thus not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 18-29). The Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review on August 21, 2013, thus making the determination of the ALJ the "final decision" of the Commissioner. (Tr. 5-9).

On October 1, 2013, the plaintiff appealed the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), thus creating this action. (Doc. 1). On February 12, 2014, the Commissioner filed an answer and the administrative transcript of the proceedings. (Doc. 17 & 18). On April 29, 2014, the matter was referred to Judge Cohn. On March 28, 2014, the plaintiff filed a brief in support of her appeal. (Doc. 21). On April 30, 2014, the defendant filed a response. (Doc. 22). On May 14, 2014, the plaintiff filed a brief in reply. (Doc. 23).

On March 16, 2015, Judge Cohn issued an R&R that the appeal be denied and that the case be closed. (Doc. 25). On April 2, 2015, the plaintiff filed an objection to the R&R. (Doc. 26) and a brief in support (Doc. 27). On April 15, 2015, the defendant filed a response to the plaintiff's objection. (Doc. 28).


When objections are timely filed to the report and recommendation of a magistrate judge, the district court must review de novo those portions of the report to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011). Although the standard is de novo, the extent of review is committed to the sound discretion of the district judge, and the court may rely on the recommendations of the magistrate judge to the extent it deems proper. Rieder v. Apfel, 115 F.Supp.2d 496, 499 (M.D.Pa. 2000) (citing United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980)).

For those sections of the report and recommendation to which no objection is made, the court should, as a matter of good practice, "satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), advisory committee notes; see also Univac Dental Co. v. Dentsply Intern., Inc., 702 F.Supp.2d 465, 469 (M.D.Pa. 2010) (citing Henderson v. Carlson, 812 F.2d 874, 878 (3d Cir. 1987) (explaining judges should give some review to every report and recommendation)). Nevertheless, whether timely objections are made or not, the district court may accept, not accept, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Local Rule 72.31.


The plaintiff advances five primary objections to Judge Cohn's Report and Recommendation. The plaintiff's first objection is to Judge Cohn's determination that the record supported the weight and consideration given by the ALJ to the opinions of Dr. Czulada, a treating physician of the plaintiff. (Doc. 27, p. 2). In particular, the plaintiff objects to the court's application of the Morris v. Barnhart case, which held: "an ALJ may discredit a physician's opinion on disability that was premised largely on the claimant's own accounts of her symptoms and limitations when a claimant's complaints are properly discounted." 78 Fed.Appx. 820 (3d Cir. 2003). Based upon this holding, Judge Cohn determined that the ALJ was correct in giving limited weight to Dr. Czulada's opinion because it was based solely upon the plaintiff's subjective complaints. (Doc. 25, p. 33). The plaintiff argues, to the contrary, that Dr. Czulada did have objective evidence to support his opinion.

The court agrees with Judge Cohn that the plaintiff has not identified any objective evidence within Dr. Czulada's treatment record that would support his opinion regarding the plaintiff. As the Third Circuit stated in Morris: "the mere memorialization of a claimant's subjective statements in a medical report does not elevate those statements to a medical opinion." 78 Fed.Appx. 820, 824-25 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 590 n. 2 (4th Cir. 1996)). Dr. Czulada's opinion was written based upon subjective complaints of the plaintiff, as opposed to objective evidence. As such, this is a sufficient ground to reject his opinion. The court agrees with Judge Cohn that this determination, when ...

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