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Weatherly v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

September 15, 2017

MARGARET WEATHERLY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JAMES D. WHITTEMORE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT is the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge (Dkt. 20), recommending that the Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiffs claim for disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income be affirmed. Plaintiff filed objections (Dkt. 21), to which the Commissioner responded (Dkt. 22). After a review of the findings to which no objection has been made for plain error and a de novo review of the legal conclusions, I agree with the Magistrate Judge that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") applied the correct legal standards and her decision is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the objections are overruled, the Report and Recommendation is adopted, and the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         I. PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS

         Plaintiff does not object to specific findings or conclusions in the Report and Recommendation. (Plaintiff s Objections and Request for Oral Argument, Dkt. 21). Rather, Plaintiff makes a general objection that "Defendant Commissioner's decision is not based on substantial evidence because no reasonable person would find that the evidence in this matter supports a finding that Plaintiff Weatherly would be able to maintain employment on a full-time basis eight (8) hours a day five (5) days a week." (Dkt. 21). Plaintiff requests de novo review, requests oral argument, and purports to adopt "her original memorandum in this matter, as if set forth fully herein." (Id.).

         II. STANDARD

         A district court may accept, reject, or modify a magistrate judge's report and recommendation. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). In the absence of specific objections, factual findings are reviewed for plain error. Id. at § 63 6(b)(1)(C), Dupree v. Warden, 715 F.3d 1295, 1300-01 (11th Cir. 2013). Legal conclusions are reviewed de novo, even in the absence of an objection. See LeCroy v. McNeil, 397 F.App'x 554, 556 (11th Cir. 2010) (per curiam) (citing United States v. Warren, 687 F.2d 347, 348 (11thCir. 1982) (per curiam)); Cooper-Houston v. Southern Ry. Co., 37 F.3d 603, 604 (11th Cir. 1994) (per curiam).

         An administrative law judge's decision is reviewed to determine whether the correct legal standards were applied, Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997) (per curiam), and if the decision as a whole is supported by substantial evidence, Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence is "more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Winschel v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The court "may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner]." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Legal conclusions of the administrative law judge, however, are reviewed de novo. Ingram v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec, 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir. 2007).

         III. DISCUSSION

         There is a five-step, sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (citing Phillips v. Barnhari, 357 F.3d 1232, 1238 (11th Cir. 2004)). The first three steps evaluate whether (1) the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, (2) the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments, and (3) the impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified impairments in the Listing of Impairments. Id. The fourth step asks whether, based on the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment, the claimant can perform any of her past relevant work despite the limitations caused by her impairments. Id. At the fourth step, the administrative law judge considers "all the relevant medical and other evidence" in the case record to determine the claimant's RFC. Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1238 (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e)). The claimant bears the burden of establishing that she cannot perform her past relevant work based on her RFC. Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999). If the claimant establishes that she cannot perform her past relevant work, the burden shifts to the administrative law judge at the fifth step to determine whether there are significant numbers of other jobs in the national economy the claimant can perform, given her RFC, age, education, and work experience. Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178; Jones, 190 F.3d at 1228.

         The ALJ determined, as to steps one through three, that Plaintiff had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity and she has severe impairments including "disorders of the spine; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; bipolar disorder, with mixed features and anxious distress; and, cocaine and cannabis use disorders, with fragile sobriety, " but her impairments do not meet or medically equal the severity of listed impairments (Decision, Dkt. 14-2 at pp. 20-21). The ALJ further concluded at step four that she is capable of performing her past relevant work as an admitting officer and bakery worker because such work does not require the performance of activities precluded by her RFC. (Id. at p. 28). The Magistrate Judge recommended, after a thorough review of the ALJ's findings and conclusions, that the decision of the ALJ be affirmed. (Report and Recommendation, Dkt. 20).

         A. Factual Findings Are Reviewed for Plain Error and Legal Conclusions Are Reviewed De Novo Because Plaintiff Failed to Make Specific Objections

         As noted, Plaintiff failed to pinpoint specific findings or conclusions in the Report and Recommendation that she deems objectionable. See United States v. Schidtz, 565 F.3d 1353, 1360 (11th Cir. 2009) (per curiam) ("After a magistrate judge has issued a report and recommendation under § 636(b)(1)(B), a party that wishes to preserve its objection must clearly advise the district court and pinpoint the specific findings that the party disagrees with."). Rather, she generally objects that the Commissioner's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. (Plaintiff s Objections and Request for Oral Argument, Dkt. 21). "Parties filing objections to a magistrate's report and recommendation must specifically identify those findings objected to. Frivolous, conclusive, or general objections need not be considered by the district court." Marsden v. Moore, 847 F.2d 1536, 1548 (11th. Cir. 1988) (citing Nettles v. Wainwright, 677 F.2d 404, 410 n.8 (5th Cir. Unit B 1982)).[1]Plaintiffs purported adoption of her original memorandum is not an effective objection. Her memorandum predates the Report and Recommendation, and therefore cannot serve as an objection to the findings and conclusions that the Magistrate Judge made later.

         Because Plaintiff has not made specific objections to the Report and Recommendation, factual findings are reviewed for plain error and legal conclusions are reviewed de novo. Dupree, 715 F.3d at 1300-01; LeCroy, 397 F.App'x at 556. The Magistrate Judge concluded that the ALJ properly accorded little weight to an opinion of Dr. Elzbieta J. Chobot-Sochet, one of Plaintiff s treating physicians, and that the ALJ properly determined based on her RFC that she is capable of performing her past relevant work. (Report and Recommendation, Dkt. 20). The ALJ's decisions on these points will be affirmed if the legal conclusions are correct and the decisions are supported by substantial evidence. While determining whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusions, the ALJ's factual findings are entitled to great deference. See Hunter v. Social Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 808 F.3d 818, 822 (11th Cir. 2015).

         B. The ALJ's Findings Relatingto Dr. Chobot-Sochet, ...


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