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Edwards v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division

April 30, 2019

LIONEL EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

         This matter is before the Court on the objections of both parties to Magistrate Judge Leonard's Report and Recommendation, which recommends that the Court grant plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment, deny the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, vacate the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying plaintiffs claim for benefits, and remand the matter to the Commissioner for further proceedings. For the reasons set forth below, the Court OVERRULES the parties' objections to Judge Leonard's Report and Recommendation and ADOPTS the findings and recommendations therein.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The facts and history of this case are fully set forth in Judge Leonard's Report and Recommendation. ECF No. 34. Therefore, the Court provides only a summary of the relevant events below.

         On July 28, 2014, Lionel Edwards ("Plaintiff) applied for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") from the Social Security Administration. R. at 62. In his application, Plaintiff claims that he became disabled on March 12, 2014, due to injuries to his lower back and hips. Id. The Social Security Administration ultimately denied his application for benefits on October 3, 2014, and again denied his application upon reconsideration on April 9, 2015. R. at 82-84, 96-98. Plaintiff then filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge. R. at 103-04. Such hearing was conducted before Administrative Law Judge Kerith Cohen (the "ALJ") on February 9, 2017. R. at 30, 122. Plaintiff, Plaintiffs fiancee, Iris Mullins, and an impartial vocational expert, Linda Augins, all appeared and testified at the hearing. R. at 31, 34-61. Plaintiffs medical records and summaries of his employment background were also entered into the record as exhibits. R. at 174-185, 210, 271-619.

         On March 28, 2017, the ALJ issued her decision, which denied Plaintiffs application for DIB and SSI. R. at 13-25. In reaching this decision, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was able to perform certain types of light work as defined by the SSA regulations despite his physical limitations, and that such work exists in sufficient numbers in the national economy for Plaintiff to obtain substantial gainful employment. R. at 18-21, 24-25. Plaintiff filed a request with the Appeals Council to reconsider the ALJ's decision. R. at 5-9. The Appeals Council found no basis to alter the ALJ's decision, at which time such decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. R. at 5. At no point during the administrative process did Plaintiff assert an Appointments Clause challenge.

         On March 6, 2018, Plaintiff brought the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. ECF No. 3. The Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Leonard for report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b). ECF No. 10. The parties each filed a motion for summary judgment, which were fully briefed by the parties. See PI. Mot. for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 29; Commissioner's Cross Mot. for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 31.

         On March 7, 2019, Judge Leonard issued his Report and Recommendation, which recommends that the Court (1) DENY the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment, (2) GRANT Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment, and (3) VACATE and REMAND the Commissioner's final decision on the ground that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's findings. ECF No. 34 at 25. By copy of such report, each party was advised of the right to file written objections to Judge Leonard's findings and recommendations. Id.

         On March 14, 2019, the Commissioner filed an objection claiming that Judge Leonard erred in finding that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. ECF No. 35. On March 21, 2019, Plaintiff filed an objection claiming that Judge Leonard erred in finding that Plaintiff waived his Appointments Clause challenge, but Plaintiff concurs with Judge Leonard's other findings and recommendations. ECF No. 36. Each party having filed their respective responses, the parties' objections are now before the Court.

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. Review of the Report and Recommendation

         After the magistrate judge issues a report and recommendation, the district judge "shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which [proper] objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). After review, "[t]he district judge 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).

         Where a party makes only "general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations," de novo review is unnecessary. Allen v. Coll. of William & Mary, 245 F.Supp.2d 777, 788 (E.D. Va. 2003) (quoting Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982) (internal citations omitted)). Moreover, "[a]mere restatement of the arguments raised in the summary judgment filings does not constitute an objection for the purposes of district court review." Nichols v. Colvin, 100 F.Supp.3d 487, 497 (E.D. Va. 2015): see also Hartfield v. Colvin, No. 2:16-CV-431, 2017 WL 4269969, at *7 (E.D. Va. Sep. 26, 2017) ("The Court may reject perfunctory or rehashed objections .. . that amount to 'a second opportunity to present the arguments already considered by the Magistrate Judge.") (internal citation omitted). If no proper objection is made, the district court need only review the report and recommendation for clear error. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Ace. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).

         B. Review of the ALJ's Decision

         When reviewing the Commissioner's denial of benefits under the Social Security Act, the Court "must uphold the factual findings of the [ALJ] if they are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standard." Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 ...


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