United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Michael F. Urbanski Chief 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
February 12, 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 Matthew James Hudgins has
filed objections to the report, and this matter is now ripe
for the court's consideration.
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 that remain in dispute after the
magistrate judge has made findings and recommendations."
United States v. Midgette, 478 F.3d 616, 621 (4th
Cir. 2007) (citing Thomas v. Am. 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 die 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.
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).
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 his 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. Smidi v. Chater. 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4di
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.
objects to die magistrate judge's determination that the
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) reasonably accounted for
Hudgins's moderate limitation in concentration,
persistence, and pace in his residual functional capacity
(RFC) assessment. Hudgins specifically takes issue with the
magistrate judge's reliance on his ability to work in
various jobs in high school and on the opinion of
consultative examiner Mark Pere2-Lope2, Ph.D., in finding
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision in this
case. The court cannot agree.
magistrate judge correctly noted, there is limited evidence
in the record concerning Hudgins's mental impairments
during die relevant period. Hudgins was treated for
depression and anxiety with medication by his primary care
physician, David Hudgins, M.D. (no relation). But Dr.
Hudgins's records all reflect normal mental status exams-
mood, memory, affect and judgment were all noted to be
normal, and there was no evidence in Dr. Hudgins's
records of any functional limitations stemming from his
mental impairments. Indeed, only a few records even mention
Hudgins's complaints of any mental impairments.
was hospitalized at one point in April 2015 after presenting
to the emergency department reporting "everybody thinks
I am suicidal." (R. 571.) This followed an incident in
which his family wanted to go to the store; Hudgins became
aggravated in the car and opened the door to jump out, but
eventually closed it. (R. 571.) Upon examination, the
emergency room doctor noted he was alert, oriented, in no
acute distress, had normal speech, no motor or sensory
deficits, normal affect, normal cognitive function, normal
judgment/insight, and normal thought processes. (R. 574.) He
was transferred from the emergency department to Lewis Gale
Pavilion, where his psychological examination was within
normal limits. (R. 580.)
Ewen, M.D., performed a consultative examination of Hudgins
in 2013, during the relevant period. Her report reveals he
was alert and oriented and able to comprehend normal
conversational speech. He had difficulty answering questions
but was easy to understand. His mood and affect were normal
and his thought processes linear. Dr. Ewen noted he had a
poor fund of knowledge but normal memory and
concentration. (R. 858.) As far as functional limitations,
Dr. Ewen found Hudgins had "pronounced communicative
limitations as he has difficulty answering questions, has
difficulty relating his history due to his learning
disability." (R. 860.)
light of the dearth of evidence concerning Hudgins's
mental impairments during the relevant period, the ALJ
examined evidence prior to Hudgins's alleged July 3, 2012
onset date-specifically, his school records dating nearly a
decade earlier, which document borderline intellectual
functioning and a need for special education services. These
school records reveal Hudgins's difficulties with
attention and staying on task in terms of completing ...