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Hamed v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

January 13, 2020

IMADELDEEN HAMED, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          T.S. Ellis, Jr. United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs request for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Commissioner's final decision found that Plaintiff Imadeldeen Hamed was no longer disabled[1] as of December 18, 2014, and therefore was no longer entitled to disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental social security income ("SSI").[2] The Commissioner's final decision was based on a finding by the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and Appeals Council for the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review ("Appeals Council").

         This matter was referred to the magistrate judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), for a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. On October 18, 2019, the magistrate judge issued an R&R recommending affirmance of the Commissioner's final decision, thus denying plaintiffs motion for summary judgment and granting the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment. More specifically, the R&R recommends three findings: (i) that the ALJ's residual functional capacity ("RFC")[3] determination is supported by substantial evidence, (ii) that the ALJ properly explained the weight accorded to plaintiffs treating physicians, and (iii) that Commissioner's final decision denying plaintiff DIB and SSI benefits for the period December 18, 2014 through the date of the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed.

         On November 1, 2019, plaintiff filed objections to the R&R. See Dkt 31. Plaintiff objected to two aspects of the magistrate judge's R&R, namely (i) the R&R's rejection of plaintiffs argument that the Administrative Record was incomplete because it did not include a December 7, 2018 letter from plaintiffs counsel to the Appeals Council, and (ii) the R&R's finding that substantial evidence supported the ALJ's determination that plaintiffs RFC allowed plaintiff to perform work that exists in the national economy. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), a de novo review of "those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made" is required. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         For the reasons that follow, the magistrate judge's R&R is adopted, plaintiffs objections are overruled, and the administrative decision is affirmed.

         I.

         The magistrate judge's R&R fully and correctly sets forth the lengthy factual and procedural history of this case. See Dkt. 30 at 2-14. Accordingly, the Court adopts as its own the procedural and factual background set forth in the R&R. In short, the Social Security Administration (the "SSA") found plaintiff disabled, as that term is defined in the statute, and awarded plaintiff benefits effective December 26, 2007 as a result of plaintiff s cancer diagnosis.[4]Then, on December 18, 2014, the SSA determined plaintiff was no longer disabled as defined by statute and terminated plaintiffs benefits because the SSA determined plaintiffs condition had medically improved such that plaintiff could perform some work that exists in the national economy. This litigation arises out of plaintiff s requests for reconsideration of the SSA decision terminating plaintiffs benefits.

         II.

         Within fourteen days after being served with a copy of a magistrate judge's R&R, "any party may serve and file written objections to such proposed findings and recommendations as provided by rules of court." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). If such objections are filed, the district court "shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." Id. Here, plaintiff timely filed two objections to the magistrate judge's R&R.

         The objection requirement is designed to allow the district court to "focus on specific issues, not the [magistrate judge's] report as a whole." United States v. Midgette, 478 F.3d 616, 621 (4th Cir. 2007). Such a focus furthers the purpose of magistrate review, namely conserving judicial resources. Id. Therefore, objections must be specific and particularized in order to direct the attention of the district court to "only those issues that remain in dispute after the magistrate judge has made findings and recommendations." Id. Thus, the Fourth Circuit has made clear that "[a] general objection to the entirety of the magistrate judge's report is tantamount to a failure to object." Tyler v. Wales, 84 Fed.Appx. 289, 290 (4th Cir. 2003).

         Accordingly, de novo review of the magistrate judge's R&R is confined to the two objections raised by plaintiff in his motion, namely (i) the R&R's rejection of plaintiff s argument that the Administrative Record was incomplete because it did not include plaintiffs counsel's December 7, 2018 letter, and (ii) the R&R's finding that substantial evidence supported the ALJ's determination that plaintiffs RFC allowed plaintiff to perform work that exists in the national economy.

         III.

         First, plaintiff objects to the R&R's finding that the Administrative Record was complete. Plaintiff argues that because the Administrative Record did not include a December 7, 2018 letter from plaintiffs counsel to the Appeals Council, the record was incomplete. Here, plaintiffs objection clearly fails.

         As an initial matter, plaintiff raised this issue for the first time in plaintiffs reply brief to defendant's cross motion for summary judgment. See Dkt. 28. The Fourth Circuit has made clear that ordinarily it is improper to consider arguments raised for the first time in a reply brief "because it would be unfair to the appellee and would risk an improvident or ill-advised opinion on the legal issues raised." Hunt v. Nuth,57 F.3d 1327, 1338 (4th Cir. 1995); see also United States v. Vogt,910 F.2d 1184, 1198 (4th Cir. 1990) (noting, but not invoking, procedural waiver of issue raised ...


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