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Stamey v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

February 26, 2019

COTRINNA STAMEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Frank D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 17). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(B), these motions were referred to the Magistrate Judge David Cayer for issuance of a Memorandum and Recommendation (“M & R”) for disposition (Doc. No. 19). The M & R respectfully recommends Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment be denied, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted, and the Commissioner's decision be reversed. After Plaintiff filed objections to the M & R (Doc. No. 20), and Defendant rested on the memorandum previously filed with this Court (Doc. No. 21), this matter is now ripe for review.

         For the reasons set forth, the Court OVERRULES Plaintiff's objections (Doc. No. 20), ACCEPTS and ADOPTS the M & R (Doc. No. 19), DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11), GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 17), and AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff does not lodge any specific objections to the procedural history and factual Background, Standard of Review, or Discussion of the sequential evaluation process. Having conducted a careful review of these portions of the M & R, the Court finds that the M & R's treatment thereof is correct and supported by the record. Because the procedural posture before this Court is different than that of the magistrate judge, the Court provides a short review of the applicable legal authority for reviewing an M & R.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. Review of the Commissioner's Determination

         Pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3), this Court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is limited to: (1) whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971), and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); Rhyne v. Astrue, 3:09- cv-412-FDW-D SC, 2011 WL 1239800, at *2 (W.D. N.C. Mar. 30, 2011). Furthermore, “it is not within the province of a reviewing court to determine the weight of evidence, nor is it the court's function to substitute its judgment for that of the Secretary if his decision is supported by substantial evidence.” Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456; see also Rhyne, 2011 WL 1239800 at *2.

         Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla and [it] must do more than create a suspicion of the existence of a fact to be established. It means such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Smith v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir.1986) (quoting Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401); Rhyne, 2011 WL 1239800 at *2. Thus, if this Court finds that the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and that his decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's determination may not be capriciously overturned.

         B. Review of the Memorandum and Recommendation

         In this case, the M & R recommended that: (1) Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment be denied; (2) Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted; and (3) the Commissioner's determination be affirmed. The M & R found that there was “substantial evidence to support the ALJ's evaluation of the record and his ultimate determination that Plaintiff was not disabled.” (Doc. No. 19 at 7-8).

         The Federal Magistrate Act states that a district court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specific proposed findings or recommendations to which objection was made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983). De novo review is not required, however, “when a party makes general or conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982); see also Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005). Objections to an M & R must specifically identify portions of the report and the basis for those objections. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). Furthermore, “a general objection to a magistrate judge's findings is not sufficient-‘a party must object to the [magistrate's] finding or recommendation . . . with sufficient specificity so as to reasonably alert the district court of the true ground for the objection.'” United States v. Benton, 523 F.3d 424, 428 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting United States v. Midgette, 478 F.3d 616, 621 (4th Cir. 2007)). General objections include those that merely restate or reformulate arguments a party has made previously to a magistrate judge. See Jackson v. Astrue, No. 1:09-cv-467, 2011 WL 1883026 (W.D. N.C. May 17, 2011); Aldrich v. Bock, 327 F.Supp.2d 743, 747 (E.D.Mich. 2004) (“A general objection or one that merely restates the arguments previously presented is not sufficient to alert the court to alleged errors on the part of the magistrate judge. An ‘objection' that does nothing more than state a disagreement with a magistrate's suggested resolution, or simply summarizes what has been presented before, is not an ‘objection' as that term is used in this context.”). “Examining new arguments already assessed in the M & R would waste judicial resources; parties must explain why the M & R is erroneous, rather than simply rehashing their prior filings and stating the report's assessment was wrong.” Hendrix v. Colvin, No. 5:12-cv- 01353, 2013 WL 2407126, at *12 (D.S.C. June 3, 2013). “General or conclusive objections result not only in the loss of de novo review by the district court, but also in the waiver of appellate review.” Brock v. Colvin, No. 2:13-cv-0039-FDW-DSC, 2014 WL 5328651, at *3 (W.D. N.C. Oct. 20, 2014) (citation omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         In Plaintiff's brief to this Court, Plaintiff objects to the M & R on two grounds. First, Plaintiff argues that the M & R erroneously affirmed the ALJ's RFC determination. (Doc. No. 20 at 1-3). Second, Plaintiff argues that the M & R erroneously affirmed the ALJ's step three reasoning ...


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