United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
ANN M. RUCKER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Michael F. Urbanski United States District Judge.
social security disability appeal was referred to the
Honorable Robert S. Ballou, United States Magistrate Judge,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), for proposed
findings of fact and a recommended disposition. The
Magistrate Judge filed a report and recommendation on August
4, 2016, recommending that Plaintiff Ann M. Rucker's
motion for summary judgment be granted in part, the
Commissioner's motion for summary judgment denied, and
the Commissioner's final decision remanded pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further
consideration consistent with this opinion. The government
filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's report, ECF
No. 25, and this matter is now ripe for the court's
consideration. For the reasons that follow, the court
overrules the objections of the Commissioner and adopts the
magistrate judge's report and recommendation in full.
not the province of a federal court to make administrative
disability decisions. Rather, judicial review of disability
cases is limited to determining whether substantial evidence
supports the Commissioner's conclusion that the plaintiff
failed to meet her burden of proving disability. See Hays
v. Sullivan. 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990);
see also Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th
Cir. 1966). Evidence is substantial when, considering the
record as a whole, it might be deemed adequate to support a
conclusion by a reasonable mind, Richardson v.
Perales. 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), or when it would be
sufficient to refuse a directed verdict in a jury trial.
Smith v. Chater. 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996).
Substantial evidence is not a "large or considerable
amount of evidence, " Pierce v. Underwood, 487
U.S. 552, 565 (1988), but is more than a mere scintilla and
somewhat less than a preponderance. Perales. 402
U.S. at 401: Laws. 368 F.2d at 642. If the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, it must be affirmed. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Perales. 402 U.S. at 401.
of evidence contained in the record, the Administrative Law
Judge ("ALJ") must sufficiently articulate his
findings such that the district court can undertake a
meaningful review. Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176,
189(4th Cir. 2016)(quoting Radford v. Colvin. 734
F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2013))("a necessary predicate to
engaging in substantial evidence review is a record of the
basis for the ALJ's ruling, including a discussion of
which evidence that ALJ found credible and why, and specific
application of the pertinent legal requirements to the record
evidence); Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 636 (4th
Cir. 2015)(quoting Cichocki v. Astrue. 729 F.3d 172,
177 (2d Cir. 2013))("remand may be appropriate... where
an ALJ fails to assess a claimant's capacity to perform
relevant functions, despite contradictory evidence in the
record, or where other inadequacies in the ALJ's review
frustrate meaningful review"). Thus, district courts
must remand cases where the ALJ's opinion lacks specific
analysis and fails to create a logical nexus between evidence
and die conclusion.
when die court refers a plaintiffs social security disability
appeal to the magistrate judge for report and recommendation,
the parties are bound by the requirements of Rule 72(b) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 72(b) permits a
party to "serve and file specific written
objections" to a magistrate judge's proposed
findings and recommendations within fourteen days of being
served with a copy of the report. See also 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1). The Fourth Circuit has held that an
objecting party must do so "with sufficient specificity
so as reasonably to alert the district court of the true
ground for the objection." United States v.
Midgette. 478 F.3d 616, 622 (4th Cir. 2007), cert
denied. 127 S.Ct. 3032 (2007).
To conclude otherwise would defeat the purpose of requiring
objections. We would be permitting a party to appeal any
issue that was before the magistrate judge, regardless of the
nature and scope of objections made to the magistrate
judge's report. Either the district court would then have
to review every issue in the magistrate judge's proposed
findings and recommendations or courts of appeals would be
required to review issues that the district court never
considered. In either case, judicial resources would be
wasted and the district court's effectiveness based on
help from magistrate judges would be undermined.
Id. The district court must determine de
novo any portion of the magistrate judge's
report and recommendation to which a proper objection has
been made. "The district court may accept, reject, or
modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence;
or return the matter to the magistrate judge with
instructions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); accord 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
however, a party "'makes general or conclusory
objections that do not direct the court to a specific error
in the magistrate judge's proposed findings and
recommendations, '" de novo review is not
required. Diprospero v. Colvin, No. 5:13-CV-00088,
2014 WL 1669806, at *1 (W.D. N.C. Apr. 28, 2014) (quoting
Howard Yellow Cabs. Inc. v. United States. 987
F.Supp. 469, 474 (W.D. N.C. 1997) (quoting Orpiano v.
Johnson. 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982))). "The
court will not consider those objections by the plaintiff
that are merely conclusory or attempt to object to the
entirety of the Report, without focusing the court's
attention on specific errors therein." Camper v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec, No. 4:08-CV-69, 2009 WL 9044111,
at *2 (E.D. Va. May 6, 2009), affd, 373 F.App'x 346 (4th
Cir.), cert-denied. 131 S.Ct. 610 (2010); see
Midgette. 478 F.3d at 621 ("Section 636(b)(1)
does not countenance a form of generalized objection to cover
all issues addressed by the magistrate judge; it contemplates
that a party's objection to a magistrate judge's
report be specific and particularized, as the statute directs
the district court to review only 'thoseportions
of the report or specified proposed findings or
recommendations to which objection is
made."') Such general objections "have the
same effect as a failure to object, or as a waiver of such
objection." Moon v. BWX Technologies. 742
F.Supp.2d 827, 829 (W.D. Va. 2010), affd, 498 F.App'x 268
(4th Cir. 2012); see also Thomas v. Arn. 474 U.S.
140, 154 (1985) ("[T]he statute does not require the
judge to review an issue de novo if no objections
objections that simply reiterate arguments raised before the
magistrate judge are considered to be general objections to
the entirety of the report and recommendation. See Veney
v. Astrue. 539 F.Supp.2d 841, 844-45 (W.D. Va. 2008). As
the court noted in Veney:
Allowing a litigant to obtain de novo review of her entire
case by merely reformatting an earlier brief as an objection
"mak[es] the initial reference to the magistrate
useless. The functions of the district court are effectively
duplicated as both the magistrate and the district court
perform identical tasks. This duplication of time and effort
wastes judicial resources rather than saving them, and runs
contrary to the purposes of the Magistrates Act."
Howard [v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.].
932 F.2d [505, ]  509 [(6th Cir. 1991)].
539 F.Supp.2d at 846. A plaintiff who reiterates her
previously-raised arguments will not be given "the
second bite at the apple she seeks;" instead, her
re-filed brief will be treated as a general objection, which
has the same effect as would a failure to object.
Commissioner objects to the magistrate judge's
application of Mascio and Monroe to the
present case. ECF No. 25. Specifically, the Commissioner
argues that the ALJ sufficiently discussed Rucker's
medical records to permit meaningful judicial review of the
ALJ's findings regarding Rucker's residual
functioning capacity ("RFC"). Id. In so
arguing, the Commissioner relies on a number of cases from
this district decided prior to Monroe and
Mascio. Id. However, just as in
Mascio, "[b]ecause we are left to guess about
how the ALJ arrived at his conclusions on [Rucker's]
ability to perform relevant functions, " remand is
appropriate in this case. 780 F.3d at 637. The court has
reviewed the Commissioner's objections de novo
and concludes that the ALJ failed to adequately explain his
reasoning for giving limited weight to the opinions of
multiple physicians who testified in ...