United States District Court, E.D. New York
Office of Sharmine Persaud Attorney for the Plaintiff By:
Sharmine Persaud, Esq., Of Counsel.
States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New
York Attorneys for the Defendant By: Candace Scott Appleton,
Assistant United States Attorney.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION & ORDER
D. SPATT United States District Judge.
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.
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
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
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”).
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.
The Defendant's Objections
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.
The Plaintiff's Arguments
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.
District Court Review of a Magistrate Judge's
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).
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)).
Judicial Review of an ALJ's Decision
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)).
“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 ...