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Maurice v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. New York

October 23, 2014

CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


LORNA G. SCHOFIELD, District Judge.

Plaintiff Guerda Maurice brings this action pursuant to Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. The parties filed cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This case was referred to the Honorable Frank Maas for a report and recommendation ("Report"). The Report was filed on July 2, 2014, and recommends that the Commissioner's motion be granted and that Maurice's motion be denied. Plaintiff timely submitted objections ("Objections") to the Report. For the following reasons, the Report is adopted, the Commissioner's motion is granted and Maurice's motion is denied.


The facts and procedural history relevant to the motions are set out in the Report and summarized here. Maurice was born on October 31, 1961, and was forty-four years old at the time of her hearing. She began working as a development aide in a group home in September 1986, and remained in that position until the onset of her alleged disability in July 2004. Her job duties as a development aide included cleaning, cooking, distributing medications to patients and escorting them to doctor's appointments. The job required Maurice to lift 25 pounds frequently, and up to 100 pounds occasionally. Maurice stopped working in the group on or about July 23, 2004, after allegedly being pushed into a dresser by a patient. According to Maurice, this incident resulted in various injuries that impaired her ability to continue working as a development aide.

On December 22, 2004, Maurice filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits running from July 24, 2004, the date on which she allegedly became disabled. Maurice alleged that she was unable to work during this period because she suffered from back and knee problems, headaches, depression, and hypertension.

In February 2005, Maurice completed a "function report" in connection with her social security claim. She wrote that she was able to dress herself and take herself to the doctor, and did not require special help or reminders to take care of her personal needs. Maurice also wrote that she had no problems paying attention, was able to deal with stress and had no memory problems. In contrast to her positive cognitive functioning, Maurice wrote that she had to use a cane for walking and frequently had to rest her feet. She also could no longer bend down or use the bathtub. She wrote that she could not drive for long periods, could do "a little laundry" and relied on others for most household chores. At her administrative hearing, Maurice testified that her pain would "come and go" on a daily basis. The parties provided medical evidence, administrative testimony, and a vocational expert's testimony, which are set out in the Report.


A reviewing 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). The district court "may adopt those portions of the report to which no specific, written objection' is made, as long as the factual and legal bases supporting the findings and conclusions set forth in those sections are not clearly erroneous or contrary to law." Adams v. N.Y. State Dep't of Educ., 855 F.Supp.2d 205, 206 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985)).

The court must undertake a de novo review of any portion of the report to which a specific objection is made on issues raised before the magistrate judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); United States v. Male Juvenile, 121 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 1997). When a party makes only conclusory or general objections, or simply reiterates the original arguments made below, a court will review the report strictly for clear error. Crowell v. Astrue, No. 08 Civ. 8019, 2011 WL 4863537, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 12, 2011). Even when exercising de novo review, "[t]he district court need not... specifically articulate its reasons for rejecting a party's objections...." United States v. Thompson, 596 F.Supp.2d 538, 541 (E.D.N.Y 2009) (quoting Morris v. Local 804, Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 167 F.App'x 230, 232 (2d Cir. 2006)).

Under Rule 12(c), judgment on the pleadings is appropriate when the material facts are undisputed and a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law based on the contents of the pleadings. See Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir. 1988); Carballo ex rel. Cortes v. Apfel, 34 F.Supp.2d 208, 213-14 (S.D.N.Y. 1999).

A district court is not permitted to review the Commissioner's decision de novo. Halloran v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 28, 31 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998)); Jones v. Sullivan, 949 F.2d 57, 59 (2d Cir. 1991). Rather, the court's inquiry is limited to ensuring that the Commissioner applied the correct legal standard and that his decision is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. 405(g); Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 127-28 (2d Cir. 2008). When the Commissioner's determination is supported by substantial evidence, the decision must be upheld, "even if there also is substantial evidence for the plaintiff's position." Morillo v. Apfel, 150 F.Supp.2d 540, 545 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (citing Baker v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 1147, 150 (8th Cir. 1984)); see also Veino v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 578, 586 (2d Cir. 2002) ("Where the Commissioner's decision rests on adequate finding supported by evidence having rational probative force, we will not substitute our judgment for that of the Commissioner.").


In their cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings, the parties dispute (1) whether Maurice had a full and fair hearing and (2) whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and is free of legal error. Because Plaintiff advances no new arguments in her Objections and only ...

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