United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
KEITH R. MELANSON, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RAYMOND A. JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is currently before the Court on Keith R.
Melanson's ("Plaintiff) objections to the Magistrate
Judge's Report and Recommendation ("R&R").
For the reasons set forth below, the R&R is
ACCEPTED and ADOPTED.
Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment is
DENIED, and Commissioner Andrew Saul's
("Commissioner") Motion for Summary Judgment is
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Magistrate Judge's R&R thoroughly details the factual
and procedural history of the case. See ECF No. 14
at 1-7. Since 1998, Plaintiff has been treated for connective
tissue disorder ("CTD") and fibromyalgia.
Id. at 2, 5. Plaintiff would often visit
rheumatologist Dr. Albert Lee ("Dr. Lee") to
receive treatment. Id. In 2014, Plaintiff allegedly
stopped working due to his condition. Id. Since
then, Dr. Lee has treated Plaintiff for his conditions at
least thirteen times and has evaluated him at least three
times. Id. at 2-5. At all thirteen treatments,
Plaintiffs lab results were normal and reported that he had
no acute synovitis (swelling of connective tissue) and that
he had good range of motion in his joints. See Id.
At these treatments, Dr. Lee would normally provide Plaintiff
with steroid injections and renew prescriptions. See
Id. During at least five of these treatments, Dr. Lee
noted that Plaintiff had a flare-up of fibromyalgia and had
the related tender points. Id. at 3-4. As for the
evaluations, Dr. Lee completed these to help Plaintiff obtain
government benefits; twice to obtain food stamps and once for
the administrative proceeding at issue here. Id. at
13, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for disability
insurance benefits, alleging an onset date of June 15, 2014.
Id. at 1. On September 24, 2015, the Commissioner
denied Plaintiffs application. ECF No. 7 at 94. Plaintiff
then requested reconsideration on October 21, 2015,
id at 99, which was denied on December 6, 2015.
Id. at 100. On January 13, 2016, Plaintiff requested
a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ"). Id. at 106. The ALJ held a
hearing on September 28, 2017. See Id. at 27-71. On
November 17, 2017, the ALJ denied Plaintiffs claim.
Id. at 9. On January 18, 2018, Plaintiff requested
the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision.
Id. at 155. On July 17, 2018, the Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's decision, making that the
final decision of the Commissioner. See Id. at 1.
September 13, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant action for
judicial review. ECF No. 1. On November 16, 2018, the
Commissioner filed an answer. ECF No. 6. On December 20,
2018, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment. ECF No.
10. On January 18, 2019, the Commissioner filed a
cross-motion for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 11-12. On
February 8, 2019, Plaintiff replied. ECF NO. 13. On June 14,
2019, the Magistrate Judge issued his R&R. ECF No. 14. On
June 28, 2019, Plaintiff filed his objections to the R&R.
ECF No. 15. The Commissioner filed a response on July 11,
2019. ECF No. 16.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule 72(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a
district judge is required to "determine de
novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition
that has been properly objected to." The de
novo requirement means that a district court judge must
give "fresh consideration" to the objected-to
portions of the Magistrate Judge's report and
recommendation. See Wilmer v. Cook, 774 F.2d 68, 73
(4th Cir. 1985); United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S.
667, 675 (1980). "The district judge may accept, reject,
or modify the recommended disposition; receive further
evidence; or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with
instructions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).
district court must review the relevant findings by the
Magistrate Judge de novo when a party objects to the
Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation. 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1). Objections made to the report must be made
"with sufficient specificity so as reasonably to alert
the district court of the true ground of the objection."
United States v. Midgette, 478 F.3d 616, 622 (4th
Cir. 2007). Objections must also respond to specific errors
in the report and recommendation because general or
conclusory objections are not proper. See Orpiano v.
Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). General or
conclusory objections are the equivalent of a waiver.
Id. 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) (citing Abou-Hussein
v. Mabus, No. 2:09-1998, 2010 WL 4340935, at *1 (D.S.C.
Oct. 28, 2010)).
Objection to Reduced Consideration of Dr. Lee's
objects to the Magistrate Judge's finding that the
ALJ's rejection of Dr. Lee's opinion was based on
substantial evidence. ECF No. 15 at 3-4. In preparation for
the September 28, 2017 hearing before the ALJ, Dr. Lee filled
a form prepared by Plaintiffs counsel. ECF No. 7 at 529-43;
see Id. at 31-32. The document is not an affidavit
or declaration, but rather a prepared form filled with
excerpts from Dr. Lee's notes on Plaintiff and snippets
of statements drawn from various websites and medical
journals. See Id. at 529-43. Dr. Lee simply checked
boxes to indicate his assent to the statement and then signed
and dated the document. See Id. Notably, the last
two pages of Dr. Lee's opinion recite verbatim the
requirements of Listing 14.06 and Dr. Lee has checked yes on
every single affirmative response. Id. at 542-43.
the treating physician's opinion is given controlling
weight if it is "well-supported by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the]
case record." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(2),
416.927(c)(2). However, if the treating doctor's opinion
is contradicted by other medical opinions in the case and by
the patient's own medical records, the ALJ must determine
how much weight to give such an opinion, even if it is the
treating doctor. See Id. at §§
404.1527(c)(3)-(6), 416.927(c)(3)-(6). Moreover, opinions
that the patient is disabled as defined under the SSA are
given no weight, as this determination is reserved to the
Commissioner. Id. at §§ 404.1527(d),
ALJ, as the original trier of fact, is the one who determines
the sufficiency of such evidence, and the Court should leave
such a determination untouched outside sufficient reasons.
See Lewis v. Berryhill858 F.3d 858, 868 (4th Cir.
2017) (quoting Monroe v. Colvin,826 F.3d 176, 189
(4th Cir. 2016)) ("The ALJ's failure to 'build
an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his
conclusion' constitutes reversible error.").
"Federal courts do not undertake to 're-weigh
conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or
substitute [their] judgment' for that of the
agency." Prof Massage Training Ctr., Inc. v.