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Thacker v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

March 23, 2018

JACQUELINE S. THACKER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge

         This 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 January 24, 2018, recommending that plaintiffs motion for summary judgment be denied, the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment be granted and the Commissioner's final decision be affirmed. Plaintiff Jacqueline S. Thacker has filed objections to the report, the Commissioner has responded, and this matter is now ripe for the court's consideration.

         I.

         Thacker raised four primary arguments on summary judgment: (1) the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred in failing to give greater weight to the opinions of Dr. Nottingham and evaluate all of his opinions; (2) the ALJ's credibility findings are not supported by substantial evidence; (3) the ALJ erred in finding Thacker's major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder not to be severe impairments; and (4) the ALJ failed to properly consider her obesity under Social Security Ruling 02-lp. The magistrate judge, in his report, rejected these arguments and determined that the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence. In her objections, Thacker raises the same four arguments, but reorganizes mem and couches them in terms of errors made by the magistrate judge, rather than the ALJ.

         The purpose of magistrate judge review is to conserve judicial resources. United States v. Midgette. 478 F.3d 616, 621 (4th Cir. 2007). To that end, the objection requirement set forth in Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is designed to "train[] the attention of both the district court and the court of appeals upon only those issues mat remain in dispute after the magistrate judge has made findings and recommendations." Id. (citing Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 147-48 (1985)). An objecting party must do so "with sufficient specificity so as reasonably to alert the district court of the true ground for the objection." Id. at 622.

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 die matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); accord 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)., If, 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-FDW-DSC, 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 Qrpiano 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.T No. 4:08cv69, 2009 WL 9044111, at *2 (E.D. Va. May 6, 2009), affd, 373 Fed.Appx. 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 'i those portions 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 Fed.Appx. 268 (4th Cir. 2012); see also Thomas v. Am. 474 U.S. 140, 154 (1985) ("PIhe statute does not require the judge to review an issue de novo if no objections are filed").

         Rehashing arguments raised before the magistrate judge does not comply with the requirement set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to file specific objections. Indeed, 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. Id.

         Thacker's objections are, in large part, a reiteration of the arguments she raised on summary judgment and are not the kind of specific objections required by Rule 72(b). However, the court has reviewed de novo those portions of the magistrate judge's report to which Thacker properly objected and finds the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence.

         II.

         It is 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). In so doing, the court may neither undertake a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision nor re-weigh the evidence of record. Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992). 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 ...


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