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Hoke v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 25, 2015

TODD S. HOKE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

STEVEN R. DOLSON, ESQ., LAW OFFICES OF STEVEN R. DOLSON, Counsel for Plaintiff Syracuse, New York, of Counsel.

ANDREEA L. LECHLEITNER, ESQ., SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, OFFICE OF REGIONAL GENERAL COUNSEL, Counsel for Defendant, New York, New York.

DECISION and ORDER

GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently before the Court, in this action filed by Todd S. Hoke ("Plaintiff") against the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking Social Security disability insurance benefits, are the following: (1) the Report-Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Christian F. Hummel, issued pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Local Rule 72.3(c) of the Local Rules of Practice for this Court recommending that the Commissioner's determination denying disability insurance benefits be affirmed; and (2) Plaintiff's Objection to the Report-Recommendation. (Dkt. Nos. 14, 16.)

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Relevant Procedural History

On October 19, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability benefits and protectively filed a Title XVI application for social security insurance under the Social Security Act. Generally, in his applications, Plaintiff alleges that he suffers from lumbar spine impairments, right hip trochanteric bursitis, major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorders with a disability onset date of January 1, 2010.[1] On January 17, 2012, Plaintiff's applications were initially denied by the Social Security Administration. Subsequently, he filed an appeal from that denial; and on November 27, 2012, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") of the Social Security Administration. On February 15, 2013, the ALJ issued his decision finding that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. Again, Plaintiff filed an appeal from that decision; on May 8, 2014, the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for further review, rendering the ALJ's decision final.

On April 17, 2015, Plaintiff commenced this action in federal court. Generally, in his brief in support of his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts the following four arguments: (1) that the ALJ committed reversible error by failing to properly assess Plaintiff's use of an assistive device (specifically, a cane); (2) that the ALJ committed reversible error by failing to call a vocational expert, despite the numerous non-exertional impairments that Plaintiff has in addition to needing a cane for balance; (3) that the ALJ committed reversible error in interpreting Plaintiff's Global Assessment of Function ("GAF") score; and (4) that the ALJ committed reversible error in assessing Plaintiff's credibility. Generally, in his responsive brief, Defendant disagrees with each of these arguments, and argues that the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed.

B. Magistrate Judge Hummel's Report-Recommendation

On April 17, 2015, Magistrate Judge Hummel issued a Report-Recommendation recommending that the Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff disability benefits be affirmed. (Dkt. No. 14.) Generally, Magistrate Judge Hummel's Report-Recommendation rendered the following findings of fact and conclusions of law: (1) the ALJ based his residual functional capacity ("RFC") determination on substantial evidence in the record after reviewing both treating and consultative examiner reports, finding that Plaintiffs cane is not medically prescribed and finding that testimony by a vocational expert is not required under SSR 96-9; (2) because the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's nonexertional limitations but did not find that they significantly diminished his ability to work, he did not need testimony of a vocational expert regarding nonexertional impairments but could resort to the applicable medical vocational guidelines; (3) the ALJ afforded appropriate weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's physician assistant and properly assessed Plaintiff's GAF score based on all of the medical evidence in the record; and (4) the ALJ properly assessed the medical records and Plaintiff's statements as to his daily activities and work history in making a credibility determination. ( Id. at Part II.D.)

C. Plaintiff's Objections to the Report-Recommendation

On April 28, 2015, Plaintiff filed his Objection to the Report-Recommendation. (Dkt.

No. 16.) In his Objection, Plaintiff asserts the following two arguments: (1) the arguments set forth in his memorandum of law in support of his underlying motion for judgment on the pleadings are incorporated by reference in the Objection; and (2) because the services of a vocational specialist may be necessary where (as here) the effects of a person's actual limitations of climbing and balancing on the occupational base are difficult to determine, the ALJ's reliance on the medical vocational guidelines was in error. ( Id. )

II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Standard of Review of a Report-Recommendation

When a specific objection is made to a portion of a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation to a de novo review. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). To be "specific, " the objection must, with particularity, "identify [1] the portions of the proposed findings, recommendations, or report to which it has an objection and [2] the basis for the objection." N.D.N.Y. L.R. 72.1(c).[2] When performing such a de novo review, "[t]he judge may... receive further evidence...." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, a district court will ordinarily refuse to consider evidentiary material that could have been, but was not, presented to the magistrate judge in the first instance.[3] Similarly, a district court will ordinarily refuse to consider argument that could have been, but was not, presented to the magistrate judge in the first instance. See Zhao v. State Univ. of N.Y., 04-CV-0210, 2011 WL 3610717, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 15, 2011) ("[I]t is established law that a district judge will not consider new arguments raised in objections to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation that could have been raised before the magistrate but were not.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Hubbard v. Kelley, 752 F.Supp.2d 311, 312-13 (W.D.N.Y. 2009) ("In this circuit, it is established law that a district judge will not consider new arguments raised in objections to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation that could have been raised before the magistrate but were not.") (internal quotation marks omitted).

When only a general objection is made to a portion of a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation to only a clear error review. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2), (3); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), Advisory Committee Notes: 1983 Addition; see also 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). Similarly, when an objection merely reiterates the same arguments made by the objecting party in its original papers submitted to the magistrate judge, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation challenged by those arguments to only a clear error review.[4] Finally, when no objection is made to a portion of a report-recommendation, the Court subjects that portion of the report-recommendation to only a clear error review. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), Advisory Committee Notes: 1983 Addition. When performing such a "clear error" review, "the court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation." Id. [5]

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.A. of his Report-Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Hummel correctly recited the legal standard governing judicial review of Defendant's decision. (Dkt. No. 14, at Part II.A.) 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

After carefully reviewing all of the papers in this action, including Magistrate Judge Hummel's Report-Recommendation, the Court concludes that Magistrate Judge Hummel's thorough Report-Recommendation is correct in all respects. (Dkt. No. 14.) Magistrate Judge Hummel 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. To those reasons, the Court adds only two points.

First, even when construed liberally, Plaintiff's Objection does not contain a specific challenge to the first, third or fourth findings and conclusions set forth above in Part II.B. of this Decision and Order. As a result, those portions of Magistrate Judge Hummel's Report-Recommendation are entitled to only clear-error review. The Court notes that Plaintiff's attempt to incorporate by reference his underlying arguments is in vain, given the legal standard governing a review of a report-recommendation. See, supra, Part II.A. of this Decision and Order.

Second, regarding Plaintiff's challenge to the second finding and conclusion set forth above in Part II.B. of this Decision and Order, even assuming that Plaintiff could not have presented his SSR 85-15 argument to Magistrate Judge Hummel on his motion for judgment on the pleadings (an assumption which the Court does not make), the force of the challenge is weakened by the fact that the ruling concludes merely that, "[w]here the effects of a person's actual limitations of climbing and balancing on the occupational base are difficult to determine, the services of a [vocational specialist] may be necessary."

ACCORDINGLY, it is

ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Hummel's Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 14) is ACCEPTED and ADOPTED in its entirety; and it is further

ORDERED that Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 11) is DENIED; and it is further

ORDERED that Defendant's cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 13) is GRANTED; and it is further

ORDERED that the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED; and it is further

ORDERED that Plaintiff's Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) is DISMISSED.


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