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Negron v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 31, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Law Office of Sharmine Persaud Attorney for the Plaintiff By: Sharmine Persaud, Esq., Of Counsel.

          United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York Attorneys for the Defendant By: Candace Scott Appleton, Assistant United States Attorney.


          ARTHUR D. SPATT United States District Judge.

         On May 1, 2015, the Plaintiff Luz Celenia Negron (the “Plaintiff” or the “claimant”) commenced this civil action pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405 et seq. (the “Act”), challenging a final determination by the Defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn W. Colvin (the “Defendant” or the “Commissioner”), that she is ineligible to receive Social Security disability insurance benefits.

         On October 5, the Court referred the parties' cross motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Fed. R. Civ. P.” or “Rule”) 12(c) to Magistrate Judge A. Kathleen Tomlinson.

         Presently before the Court are the Defendant's objections to the February 21, 2017 Report and Recommendation (the “R&R”) of Judge Tomlinson. Upon a de novo review, the Court denies the Plaintiff's motion in its entirety; and grants the Defendant's motion in its entirety.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The R&R

         Relevant here, the R&R found that Administrative Law Judge Andrew S. Weiss (the “ALJ”) failed to consider the effects of the Plaintiff's obesity in rendering his determination that the Plaintiff's impairments did not meet the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; the ALJ erred in affording “little weight” to the medical opinions of the Plaintiff's treating physicians, Dr. Richard Parker (“Dr. Parker”) and Dr. Michael Nicolosi (“Dr. Nicolosi”) “without conducting any investigation into the omissions or inconsistencies arising from their opinions, ” (R&R at 55); and the ALJ erred in relying upon the single decision makers (the “SDMs”) when determining the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”).

         For those reasons, the R&R recommended that the Court deny the Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c); grant, in part, the Plaintiff's motion for a judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c); and remand the proceedings to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with those rulings.

         B. The Defendant's Objections

         On March 7, 2017, the Defendant filed timely objections to the R&R. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 (“[a] party may serve and file objections to the order within 14 days after being served with a copy.”). The Defendant argues that the R&R incorrectly applied the substantial evidence standard to the ALJ's decision; the ALJ was not under any duty to recontact Dr. Parker or Dr. Nicolosi because their medical opinions were not supported by substantial evidence; the ALJ did not rely on the determinations of the SDMs in determining the Plaintiff's RFC; and the ALJ factored obesity into his RFC determination through the evaluation of medical records that indicated the Plaintiff's weight but failed to provide any evidence that her obesity limited her function further than the ALJ found.

         C. The Plaintiff's Arguments

         The Plaintiff did not object to any of the R&R's findings. The Plaintiff urges the Court to adopt the R&R in its entirety. She argues that the ALJ failed to properly apply the treating physician rule to the opinions of Drs. Nicolosi and Parker; that the ALJ was bound to seek clarification from those doctors; and that the ALJ improperly relied on the SDMs' assessments in rendering his RFC.


         A. District Court Review of a Magistrate Judge's R&R

         A district court reviewing a magistrate judge's report and recommendation “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). Parties may raise objections to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, but they must be “specific, ” “written, ” and submitted “[w]ithin 14 days after being served with a copy of the recommended disposition.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2); accord 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). A district court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the R&R or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which timely and proper objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3) (“The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.”). The district court may adopt those portions of a report and recommendation to which no timely objections have been made, provided no clear error is apparent from the face of the record. Lewis v. Zon, 573 F.Supp.2d 804, 811 (S.D.N.Y. 2008); Nelson v. Smith, 618 F.Supp. 1186, 1189 (S.D.N.Y. 1985).

         In addition, “[t]o the extent . . . that the party makes only conclusory or general arguments, or simply reiterates the original arguments, the Court will review the [R&R] strictly for clear error.” IndyMac Bank, F.S.B. v. Nat'l Settlement Agency, Inc., No. 07-CV-6865, 2008 WL 4810043, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 31, 2008); see also Toth v. N.Y. City Dep't of Educ., No. 14CV3776SLTJO, 2017 WL 78483, at *7 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 9, 2017) (“Reviewing courts should review a report and recommendation for clear error where objections are merely perfunctory responses, argued in an attempt to engage the district court in a rehashing of the same arguments set forth in the original petition.” (quoting Ortiz v. Barkley, 558 F.Supp.2d 444, 451 (S.D.N.Y. 2008))). “The goal of the federal statute providing for the assignment of cases to magistrates is to increase the overall efficiency of the federal judiciary.” McCarthy v. Manson, 554 F.Supp. 1275, 1286 (D. Conn. 1982), aff'd, 714 F.2d 234 (2d Cir. 1983) (quoting Nettles v. Wainwright, 677 F.2d 404, 410 (Former 5th Cir. 1982) (en banc)) (footnote omitted). “There is no increase in efficiency, and much extra work, when a party attempts to relitigate every argument which it presented to the Magistrate Judge.” Toth, 2017 WL 78483, at *7 (quoting Camardo v. Gen. Motors Hourly-Rate Employees Pension Plan, 806 F.Supp. 380, 382 (W.D.N.Y. 1992)).

         B. Judicial Review of an ALJ's Decision

         “Judicial review of the denial of disability benefits is narrow” and “[t]he Court will set aside the Commissioner's conclusions only if they are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole or are based on an erroneous legal standard.” Koffsky v. Apfel, 26 F.Supp. 475, 478 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 16, 1998) (Spatt, J.) (citing Bubnis v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 177, 181 (2d Cir. 1998)).

         Thus, “the reviewing court does not decide the case de novo.” Pereira v. Astrue, 279 F.R.D. 201, 205 (E.D.N.Y. 2010). Rather, “the findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive, ” id., and therefore, the relevant question is not “whether there is substantial evidence to support the [claimant's] view”; instead, the Court “must decide whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision. ” Bonet ex rel. T.B. v. Colvin, 523 F. App'x 58, 59 (2d Cir. 2013) (summary order) (emphasis in original). In this way, the “substantial evidence” standard is “very deferential” to the Commissioner, and allows courts to reject the ALJ's findings “only if a reasonable factfinder would have to conclude otherwise.” Brault v. SSA, 683 F.3d 443, 448 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Warren v. Shalala, 29 F.3d 1287, 1290 (8th Cir. 1994) (emphasis in original)). The standard is “even more [deferential] than the ‘clearly erroneous' standard.” Brault, 683 F.3d at 448 (citing Dickinson v. Zurko,527 U.S. 150, 153, 119 S.Ct. 1816, 144 L.Ed.2d ...

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