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Justin M. Smith v. Michael J. Astrue

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK


January 11, 2011

JUSTIN M. SMITH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

(GTS/GHL)

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court in this action, filed by Justin M. Smith ("Plaintiff") against Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue ("Defendant") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking Social Security benefits, are the following: (1) the Report-Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge George H. Lowe, issued pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 72.3(c) of the Local Rules of Practice for this Court, recommending that Defendant's decision denying Social Security benefits to Plaintiff be affirmed and that Plaintiff's Complaint be dismissed; (2) Plaintiff's Objections to the Report-Recommendation; and (3) Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Objections. (Dkt. Nos. 14, 15, 17.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Objections are rejected, Magistrate Judge Lowe's Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted in its entirety, and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Because neither party has objected to the to Part I of Magistrate Judge Lowe's Report-Recommendation, setting forth the procedural background of this action, the Court adopts that part's description of this action's procedural background. (See generally Dkt. No. 14, at 1-2.)

On December 20, 2005, Plaintiff protectively applied for supplemental security income ("SSI"). (See Administrative Transcript ["T."] 16, 70-71.)*fn1 On May 18, 2006, his application was denied by the Social Security Administration. (T. 59.) On June 3, 2008, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") of the Social Security Administration.*fn2

In his decision, the ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled,*fn3 and concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled.

(Dkt. No. 14.) More specifically, in reaching this conclusion, the ALJ made the following findings: (1) Plaintiff had never before engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) Plaintiff's "venous insufficiency secondary to deep venous thrombosis and cosinophilic granuloma" were severe impairments; (3) however, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment; (4) Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work, with the only limitation being that he should avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, dusts, odors, and gasses; and (5) although Plaintiff had no past relevant work history, considering his age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform. (Id.)

Plaintiff appealed from the ALJ's decision to the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. (T. 11-12.) On January 30, 2009, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of Defendant. (T 5-7.) On March 9, 2009, Plaintiff commenced this action in federal court. (Dkt. No. 1.)

Generally, in his brief in support of his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts the following four arguments: (1) the ALJ erred when he failed to find that Plaintiff's bipolar disorder was a severe impairment (Dkt. No. 12 at 12-13); (2) the ALJ failed to apply the appropriate legal standards when evaluating Plaintiff's RFC (id. at 13-16); (3) the ALJ failed to apply the appropriate legal standards when evaluating Plaintiff's credibility (id. at 16-18); and (4) the ALJ erred when he failed to consult a vocational expert (id. at 18-19). Generally, in his brief in response to Plaintiff's brief, Defendant disagrees with each of these four arguments, and argues that the decision finding Plaintiff not disabled should be affirmed. (Dkt. No. 13.)

B. Magistrate Judge Lowe's Report-Recommendation

On June 4, 2010, Magistrate Judge Lowe issued a Report-Recommendation recommending that Defendant's decision denying Social Security benefits be affirmed and the Complaint be dismissed on the following grounds: (1) the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff's bipolar disorder was a non-severe impairment was supported by substantial evidence; (2) the ALJ's RFC finding was supported by substantial evidence; (3) the ALJ's analysis of Plaintiff's credibility was supported by substantial evidence; and (4) contrary to Plaintiff's arguments, the Grids support a finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Dkt. No. 14.)

C. Plaintiff's Objections to the Report-Recommendation

On June 16, 2010, Plaintiff timely filed his Objections to the Report-Recommendation. (Dkt. No. 15.) Generally, in his Objections, Plaintiff argues that the Court should reject the Report-Recommendation for the following reasons: (1) the ALJ erred when he found no severe mental impairments; (2) the ALJ did not apply the appropriate legal standards in evaluating Plaintiff's RFC; (3) the credibility assessment was the product of legal error and factual misstatements, and was therefore unsupported by substantial evidence; and (4) Defendant did not meet his burden at Step 5 because the ALJ failed to consult a vocational expert. (Dkt. No. 15.) On June 30, 2010, Defendant filed his Response to Plaintiff's Objections. (Dkt. No. 17.)

II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Standard of Review of Magistrate Judge Lowe's Report-Recommendation

When specific objections are made to a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the Court makes a "de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).*fn4

When only general objections are made to a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, or where the objecting party merely reiterates the same arguments taken in its original papers submitted to the magistrate judge, the Court reviews the report-recommendation for clear error or manifest injustice. See Brown v. Peters, 95-CV-1641, 1997 WL 599355, at *2-3 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 22, 1997) (Pooler, J.) [collecting cases], aff'd without opinion, 175 F.3d 1007 (2d Cir. 1999).*fn5

Similarly, when a party makes no objection to a portion of a report-recommendation, the Court reviews that portion for clear error or manifest injustice. See Batista v. Walker, 94-CV-2826, 1995 WL 453299, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 31, 1995) (Sotomayor, J.) [citations omitted]; Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b), Advisory Committee Notes: 1983 Addition [citations omitted]. After conducing the appropriate review, the Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

B. Standard Governing Judicial Review of Defendant's Decision

In Part II.B. of his Report-Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Lowe correctly recited the legal standard governing judicial review of Defendant's decision. (Dkt. No. 14, at 4-5.) As a result, this standard is incorporated by reference in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties.

III. ANALYSIS

As an initial matter, even when construed with the utmost of liberality, Plaintiff's Objections fail to specifically address Magistrate Judge Lowe's recommendations. Instead, Plaintiff's Objections simply reiterate his arguments, presented in his papers submitted to Magistrate Judge Lowe, as to why the ALJ's findings and conclusions were in error. For the reasons explained above in Part II.A. of this Decision and Order, the Court need review the Report-Recommendation only for clear error.

After carefully reviewing all of the papers in this action, including Magistrate Judge Lowe's Report-Recommendation, the Court concludes that Magistrate Judge Lowe's thorough Report-Recommendation is correct in all respects.Magistrate Judge Lowe employed the proper standards, accurately recited the facts, and reasonably applied the law to those facts. (Id.) As a result, the Court accepts and adopts the Report-Recommendation in its entirety for the reasons stated therein.

The Court would add only three points. First, Magistrate Judge Lowe's Report-Recommendation would survive even a de novo review.

Second, even assuming that a claimant's inability to afford prescribed medication is not, by itself, grounds for denying a claim based on a failure to take prescribed medications, Magistrate Judge Lowe did not cite Plaintiff's failure to take prescribed medication as his sole reason for affirming the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff's bipolar disorder was not a severe mental impairment. Rather, Magistrate Judge Lowe also cited the following reasons, to which Plaintiff offered no specific objections: (1) the findings of Dr. Noia, the examining psychologist, who indicated that there was no Axis I or Axis II diagnosis, and that Plaintiff was capable of performing basic mental work activities; (2) the opinion of a state agency review physician that Plaintiff was not significantly limited in any mental activity required to sustain a normal workday or work-week, and that his affective disorder was non-severe; and (3) the fact that Plaintiff's testimony at his hearing regarding his bipolar disorder was not totally credible. (Dkt. No. 14.)

Third, Plaintiff's argument that Magistrate Judge Lowe made "unwarranted assumptions" in reviewing the ALJ's credibility assessment is without merit. Magistrate Judge Lowe carefully recited the many reasons denoted by the ALJ for determining that Plaintiff was not totally credible. Moreover, Plaintiff's dissatisfaction with Magistrate Judge Lowe's commentary regarding the potential reason for Plaintiff limiting his walking activity does not change the fact that the ALJ's credibility determination was supported by substantial evidence.

ACCORDINGLY, it is ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Lowe's Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 14) is ACCEPTED and ADOPTED in its entirety; and it is further ORDERED that Plaintiff's Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) is DISMISSED.

Syracuse, New York


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