United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge
Renee R. brought this action for review of the final decision
made by defendant, Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration, denying her claim for social security income
(“SSI”) disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under the Social Security Act. Both
parties moved for summary judgment, and pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B), the court referred the motion to U.S.
Magistrate Judge Robert S. Ballou for a report and
recommendation (R&R). On January 9, 2019, the magistrate
judge issued his R&R, finding that substantial evidence
supported the Commissioner's decision. (Dkt. No. 21.)
Renee filed a timely objection on January 23, 2019. (Dkt. No.
22, Pl.'s Obj.)
de novo review of the pertinent portions of the record, the
report, and the filings by the parties, in conjunction with
the applicable law, the court agrees with the magistrate
judge's recommendation. Accordingly, the court will grant
the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment, deny
Renee's motion for summary judgment, and affirm the
court adopts the recitation of facts and procedural
background as set forth in the report. (R&R 2-13.)
Standard of Review
court's review of the administrative law judge's
(ALJ) underlying decision is limited. Specifically,
“[a] district court's primary function in reviewing
an administrative finding of no disability is to determine
whether the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial
evidence.” Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517
(4th Cir. 1987). Substantial evidence does not require a
“large or considerable amount of evidence, ”
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 564- 65 (1988);
rather, it requires “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971). This is “more than a mere scintilla of
evidence [and] somewhat less than a preponderance.”
Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir.
as here, a matter has been referred to a magistrate judge
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), this court reviews de
novo the portions of the report to which a timely objection
has been made. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3) (“The district
judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate
judge's disposition that has been properly objected
to.”); United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667,
673-74 (1980) (finding that de novo review of the
magistrate's report and recommendation comports with due
objection to trigger de novo review, it must be made
“with sufficient specificity so as reasonably to alert
the district court of the true ground for the
objection.” United States v. Midgette, 478
F.3d 616, 622 (4th Cir. 2007). Further, objections must
respond to a specific error in the report and recommendation.
See Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir.
1982). General or conclusory objections, therefore, are not
proper; they are in fact considered the equivalent of a
waiver. Id. Likewise, an objection that merely
repeats the arguments made in the briefs before the
magistrate judge is a general objection and is treated as a
failure to object. Moon v. BWX Techs, 742 F.Supp.2d
827, 829 (W.D. Va. 2010). As other courts have recognized in
the social security context, “[t]he Court may reject
perfunctory or rehashed objections to R&Rs that amount to
a second opportunity to present the arguments already
considered by the Magistrate Judge.” Heffner v.
Berryhill, No. 2:16-cv-820, 2017 WL 3887155, at *3
(D.S.C. Sept. 6, 2017) (quoting Felton v. Colvin,
No. 2:12-cv-558, 2014 WL 315773, at *7 (E.D. Va. Jan. 28,
2014)). Because “the purpose of magistrate review is to
conserve judicial resources, ” 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.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 100 F.Supp.3d 487, 497 (E.D.
Renee R.'s Objections
brief to the magistrate judge in support of summary judgment,
Renee argued that the ALJ improperly evaluated her mental
impairments; that the residual functional capacity (RFC)
developed by the ALJ was not supported by substantial
evidence; that the ALJ's assessment of her pain
allegations was not supported by substantial evidence; and
that this matter should be remanded for consideration of new
evidence submitted to the Appeals Council. (Dkt. No. 15,
Pl.'s Mem.) Renee's objections to the magistrate
judge's recommendation largely reiterate those arguments.
(See Pl.'s Obj. 2 (arguing that the ALJ
improperly evaluated her mental impairments pursuant to SSR
96-8p); id. 8 (“The new evidence submitted to
the Appeals Council is material and there is a reasonable
probability that the ALJ's decision would be changed upon
consideration of the evidence.”).) In some instances,
Renee explicitly references her summary judgment brief.
(See Id. 5 (“In this case, as argued by
plaintiff in her memorandum, the ALJ also failed to draw
any explicit conclusions about how plaintiff's mental
limitations affect her ability to perform job-related tasks
for a full workday.”) (emphasis added); Id.
(“As outlined in detail in plaintiff's
brief, the ALJ's assessment of the evidence he used
to find plaintiff's allegations were not supported by the
evidence is rife with errors as the ALJ ignored evidence or
misstated it to support his findings.”) (emphasis
added).) The court will not address arguments, such as the
foregoing, that were thoroughly explored by the magistrate
court will, however, address one of the objections raised by
Renee. Renee argues that the R&R does not acknowledge
that the ALJ failed to evaluate whether pain and fatigue
arising from Renee's severe impairments would require
breaks during the workday and, if so, how often they would
occur. (Pl.'s Obj. 5-6.) This argument misstates the
magistrate judge's analysis. Instead, the magistrate
judge wrote that Renee's “episodes of fatigue and
need for breaks are not severe impairments, but rather
complaints she made during the administrative hearing that
the ALJ found unsupported by the record.”
(R&R 19 (emphasis added).) The magistrate judge then
described the “logical bridge” that the ALJ built
between the evidence and his RFC finding. (Id.
19-20.) For example, Renee's physicians' notes showed
“essentially normal” physical exams, normal gait
and normal range of motion in neck and back, and consistent
travel to Northern Virginia. (R. 35-38.) In addition, a state
agency physician found that Renee could perform light work,
including standing and/or walking six hours in an eight- hour
workday, and sitting six hours in an eight-hour workday.
(R&R 20 (citing R. 38-40).) As the magistrate judge
noted, “the record contains no opinion or other
document from a physician indicating that Renee has fatigue
or pain to the extent ...