United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
VIRGINIA M. HERNANDEZ COVINGTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court upon consideration of United
States Magistrate Judge Amanda Arnold Sansone's Report
and Recommendation (Doc. # 25), entered on January 5, 2017,
recommending the decision of Defendant Nancy A.
Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
be affirmed and the present action dismissed. Plaintiff Debra
Marr West filed an objection on January 19, 2017. (Doc. #
26). The Commissioner filed a response to West's
objection on February 3, 2017. (Doc. # 27). For the reasons
below, West's objection is overruled. Furthermore, Judge
Sansone's Report and Recommendation is adopted. The
decision of the Commissioner is affirmed and this action is
filed her application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income on September 8, 2011. (Doc. #
15-2 at 24). In her application, West stated the date of
onset as August 7, 2010. (Id.). After two hearings,
the administrative law judge issued a decision on August 7,
2014, denying West's applications. (Id. at
21-44). West timely appealed. (Id. at 19-20). The
Appeals Counsel adopted most of the administrative law
judge's findings, disagreeing only with the
administrative law judge's finding as to West's date
last insured and the reason for the second hearing, and
affirmed the denial of benefits. (Id. at 2-10).
subsequently brought this action on November 16, 2015,
seeking to have the Commissioner's decision set aside.
(Doc. # 1). Pursuant to Local Rule 6.01(c)(21), the action
was referred to Judge Sansone for a Report and
Recommendation. After the parties filed their respective
briefs (Doc. ## 22, 24), Judge Sansone entered her Report and
Recommendation on January 5, 2017, which recommends that the
decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. (Doc. # 25). West
filed a timely objection and the Commissioner responded.
(Doc. ## 26, 27).
conducting a careful and complete review of the findings and
recommendations, a district judge may accept, reject or
modify the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation.
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Williams v. Wainwright,
681 F.2d 732 (11th Cir. 1982). In the absence of specific
objections, there is no requirement that a district judge
review factual findings de novo, Garvey v.
Vaughn, 993 F.2d 776, 779 n.9 (11th Cir. 1993), and the
court may accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the
findings and recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).
The district judge reviews legal conclusions de
novo, even in the absence of an objection. See
Cooper-Houston v. S. Ry. Co., 37 F.3d 603, 604 (11th
Cir. 1994); Castro Bobadilla v. Reno, 826 F.Supp.
1428, 1431-32 (S.D. Fla. 1993), aff'd, 28 F.3d
116 (11th Cir. 1994) (Table).
Court has conducted a careful and complete review of the
findings, conclusions, and recommendations, and has reviewed
matters of law de novo. The Report and
Recommendation provides a thorough and fair review of the
administrative record. Moreover, the Report and
Recommendation cogently explains why the Commissioner's
decision should be affirmed. As such, the Court accepts the
factual findings and legal conclusions of Judge Sansone and
adopts her Recommendation.
the Court finds no reason to further expound on the reasons
articulated by Judge Sansone, the Court does take this
opportunity to address West's primary contention; namely,
that Judge Sansone impermissibly engaged in post hoc
rationalization. (Doc. # 26 at 1-2). Relying on Owens v.
Heckler, 748 F.2d 1511, 1516 (11th Cir. 1984), for the
broad proposition that a court may not affirm an
administrative decision “simply because some rationale
might have supported the ALJ's conclusion, ” West
argues Judge Sansone erred by “bas[ing] her conclusion
on post hoc rationalizations to compensate for the
ALJ's failure to properly consider the Plaintiff's
obesity” and “rel[ying] on post hoc
rationalization in finding that the ‘ALJ . . .
articulated substantial evidence for determining that Dr.
Mahar's opinions are inconsistent with the record and
giving his opinions little weight.'” (Doc. # 26 at
1-2). West's reliance on Owens, however, is
Owens a recipient of supplemental security income
had her benefits terminated after a routine review of her
case revealed the existence of a bank account held jointly by
the recipient and her daughter. 748 F.2d at 1513. At a
hearing before an administrative law judge, the recipient
argued the money in the jointly-held account should not have
been attributed to her because the money had never been
available for her use and, in the alternative, repayment
should be waived. Id. The administrative law judge
rejected both arguments and entered a decision demanding
repayment of benefits the recipient had collected.
recipient appealed to the Appeals Council, arguing the
administrative law judge applied the wrong standard, i.e.,
the “irrebuttable presumption standard” rather
than looking at the intent of the parties when evaluating
whether a claimant should be held to have access to funds in
a joint bank account. Id. at 1513-14. In its
decision, the Appeals Council “reaffirmed its
commitment to the policy of looking at the intent of the
parties.” Id. at 1514. The Appeals Council
also went on to state, “‘[i]t appear[ed] that the
administrative law judge considered the Council's policy
on joint bank accounts . . .'” and “inferred
that the ALJ had simply found that the claimant's
testimony did not constitute sufficiently ‘clear and
convincing evidence' to rebut the presumption of
ownership.” Id. The Appeals Council affirmed
on the aforesaid grounds.
thereto, the recipient sought review in district court.
Id. at 1513. The district court affirmed the
decision of the Commissioner and the recipient appealed to
the Eleventh Circuit. Id. On appeal, the Eleventh
Circuit was explicit that its “evaluation center[ed] on
the adequacy of the opinion rendered by the ALJ.”
Id. at 1514. The court further noted that the
administrative law judge's articulation of the standard
he applied was “ambiguous at best” and that the
court “simply [could not] tell” what standard was
applied. Id. at 1515. “Even more serious was
the ALJ's failure to make any finding at all on the
credibility of the testimony relating to” the issue of
testimony given during the hearing. Id. Ultimately,
the Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions
to the district court to remand the case to the agency for
further findings because “the ALJ did not provide [the
court] with the information essential to” evaluating
the decision. Id. at 1516.
however, is readily distinguishable from the case at hand.
Here, the record reveals that Judge Sansone merely summarized
the reasons articulated by the administrative law judge
himself for the decision to deny benefits. This is not an
instance where, as in Owens, the administrative law
judge failed to “pass on the credibility of the
claimant” or to “state with at least some measure
of clarity the grounds for his decision, ” Id.
Rather, as demonstrated by the record, the administrative law
judge provided a thorough explanation for his credibility
determination and determination as to how much weight to
assign the treating physician's statements. That Judge
Sansone highlighted some of the administrative law
judge's reasons for recommending that the
denial-of-benefits decision be affirmed is not tantamount to
post hoc rationalization.
it is now ORDERED, ...