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Belinda H. v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

August 30, 2019

BELINDA H.,[1] Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Belinda H. 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”) 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 August 1, 2019, the magistrate judge issued his R&R, finding that substantial evidence supported the Commissioner’s decision. (Dkt. No. 24.) Plaintiff filed a timely objection on August 15, 2019. (Pl.’s Obj., Dkt. No. 25.)

         After 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 Belinda’s motion for summary judgment, and affirm the Commissioner’s decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The court adopts the recitation of facts and procedural background as set forth in the report. (R&R 3–9.)


         A. Standard of Review

          This 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. 1966).

         Where, 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 process requirements).

         For an 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. Va. 2015).

         B. Belinda H.’s Objections

         In her brief to the magistrate judge in support of her motion for summary judgment, Belinda argued that the ALJ’s assessment of her mental impairments and subjective impairment allegations is not supported by substantial evidence. (Pl.’s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. 10–18, Dkt. No. 16.) In many respects, Belinda’s objections are a restatement of those arguments. (See, e.g., Pl.’s Mem. 11 (“Thus, it follows that a proper assessment of plaintiff’s RFC requires a more in-depth discussion of his mental impairments at Step 4 than at Step 2 or 3.

         Simply limiting plaintiff to simple, routine, tasks, simple work related decisions, and occasional interaction with coworkers and the public in his RFC assessment is not enough to fulfill SSR 96-8p.”); Pl.’s Obj. 3 (“Therefore, a proper assessment of plaintiff’s RFC under SSR 96-8p requires a more in-depth discussion of her mental impairments and consequently, the Report and Recommendation’s reliance on the ALJ’s discussion of plaintiff’s mental impairments at step 2 in support of the ALJ’s RFC finding is in error.”).)[2] It is not necessary for the court to address the exact same arguments raised before the magistrate judge. The court will, however, address three objections raised by Belinda.

         First, Belinda argues that the R&R mischaracterized her testimony about her ability to work around others and her difficulties staying on task. (R&R 11 (“The ALJ accurately noted that Belinda testified to being able to work around one, two, or a small amount of people, or a single supervisor, without significant problems.”).) Belinda initially testified that she gets “distracted by other people,” that “being around other people” makes her “nervous and anxious,” and mentioned that she was fired from a job at the Dollar Store after ...

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