United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
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
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
STANDARDS OF REVIEW
Review of the Report and Recommendation
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.
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).
Review of the ALJ's Decision
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 ...