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Jasmine K. v. Saul

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

September 9, 2019

JASMINE K., [1] o/b/o J.G., a minor child, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, [2] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Elizabeth K. Dillon, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Jasmine K., on behalf of J.G, a minor child, brought this action for review of the final decision made by defendant, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner), finding J.G. not disabled and therefore denying her claim for supplemental security income (SSI) under the Social Security Act (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 March 15, 2019, the magistrate judge issued his R&R, finding that substantial evidence supported the Commissioner's decision. (R&R, Dkt. No. 21.) Jasmine filed a timely objection on March 29, 2019. (Pl. Obj., Dkt. No. 22.)

         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 Jasmine'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 2-6.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         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) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). 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 “[t]he 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. Colvin, 100 F.Supp.3d 487, 497 (E.D. Va. 2015).

         B. Jasmine K.'s Objections

         In her brief to the magistrate judge in support of summary judgment, Jasmine argued that three of the ALJ's decisions were not supported by substantial evidence: that J.G. has less than marked limitation in interacting and relating with others; that J.G. has less than marked limitation in health and physical well-being; and that J.G.'s and Jasmine's subjective complaints were not entirely credible. (Pl. Mot. Summ. J. 3-9, Dkt. No. 15.) Jasmine's objections to the magistrate judge's recommendation largely reiterate those arguments. (See, e.g., Pl. Obj. 1 (“The Report and Recommendation erred in concluding substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination that J.G. had a less than marked limitation in the domain of interacting and relating with others.”); id. at 2 (“The Report and Recommendation erred in concluding substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination that plaintiff had no serious problems in the domain of health and physical well-being.”); id. at 3 (“The Report and Recommendation erred in concluding substantial evidence support [sic] the ALJ's determination regarding the allegations of J.G. and J.G.'s mother . . . .”).) Jasmine's objections are mostly a condensed version of her summary judgment brief, and the court will not address arguments that were thoroughly explored by the magistrate judge. Nonetheless, even if the court were to consider the objections de novo, it would conclude that the magistrate judge's reasoning is correct and the ALJ's determination is supported by substantial evidence.

         1. Interacting and relating with others

         Jasmine first argues that the ALJ erred by considering only Dr. Gauthier's consultative exam in reaching her decision that J.G. had a less than marked limitation in the domain of interacting and relating with others. (Id. at 1.) She is correct that the ALJ relied on the report to find that “[a]t the consultative examination, [J.G.] was afraid of the examiner as a stranger but did show affection to her caregivers and walked toward her examiners. She pointed to objects to show people something interesting, and she was able to interact appropriately with others.” (R. 69, Dkt. No. 8.) However, Jasmine singles out this passage from the ALJ's decision, apparently suggesting that this was the full ...


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