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Watkins v. Barnhart

June 11, 2008

ALEXANDER WATKINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Curtis L. Collier Chief United States District Judge

Chief District Judge Curtis L. Collier

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court are the objections of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the Commissioner") to the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") of United States Magistrate Judge Susan K. Lee (Court File No. 28). Plaintiff Alexander Watkins ("Plaintiff") has responded to these objections, and this matter is now ripe for decision. For the following reasons, the Court will ACCEPT and ADOPT the R&R of the magistrate judge, but the Court will ORDER the Commissioner to send any payment of fees to Plaintiff's Counsel but the payment should be payable to Plaintiff. However, this payment is for the sole purpose of paying attorney's fees and may not be used by Plaintiff for any other purpose than payment of such fees.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The Court will ACCEPT and ADOPT the facts and procedural background set out by the magistrate judge. The Court previously found for Plaintiff and remanded "the matter to the Commissioner under the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further fact-finding by an Administrative Law Judge." (Court File No. 18). Plaintiff then filed a motion requesting attorneys' fees under 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (Court File No. 20). The magistrate judge recommended granting this motion, and awarding attorney's fees of $6,416.50 payable to Plaintiff's attorney. The Commissioner objects to all three of these recommendations.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court conducts a de novo review of the portions of the R&R to which objections are made, and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). The Court's standard of review is the same as the magistrate judge's, but a party's general objections are not sufficient to challenge a magistrate judge's findings. Howard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Serv., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991). "A district judge should not have to guess what arguments an objecting party depends on when reviewing a magistrates report." Id. A district court should only review for clear error where a party makes perfunctory arguments to engage the district court in rehashing the same arguments set forth in the original petition. Edwards v. Fischer, 414 F.Supp.2d 342, 346-47 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (internal citations omitted). A party's failure to object is accepted as agreement with the conclusions of the magistrate judge. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149-50 (1985).

III. DISCUSSION

Commissioner raises three different objections to the magistrate judge's R&R, which the Court will consider in turn.

A. The Commissioner's Objection to the Award of Fees

The Commissioner argues the decision of the administrative law judge ("ALJ") in this case was substantially justified, and therefore the Court should decline to award any fees under 28 U.S.C. § 2412. "[A]lthough the ALJ did not explicitly refer to [Plaintiff's] obesity, it was clear from the record that the ALJ was aware of [Plaintiff's] weight because he had seen him at the hearing. Further, the ALJ relied on the doctors who had examined [Plaintiff] and were certainly aware of his obesity and, thus, implicitly considered the impairment." (Court File No. 28, at 1-2).

"A position is substantially justified when it is justified in substance or in the main - that is, justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable person. Stated otherwise, a position is substantially justified when it has a reasonable basis both in law and fact." Howard v. Barnhart, 376 F.3d 551, 554 (6th Cir. 2004).

The Court has found the ALJ did not provide sufficient detail in his ruling to justify the denial of benefits under the law (Court File No. 17 at 11). The Court found the ALJ's decision was "not supported by substantial evidence and did not appear to follow the rules of [Social Security Ruling] 97-6p." (Court File No. 17 at 17). This particular Social Security Ruling requires an ALJ to "review the entire record, including objective medical evidence and the claimant's subjective statements. The ALJ must also consider a list of factors, including the claimant's daily activities and factors that may precipitate or aggravate the pain." (Court File No. 17, at 16) (internal citations omitted).

The Court found "the ALJ did not ask about Plaintiff's daily life activities and failed to clearly consider Plaintiff's obesity, which seems to be a factor that aggravates symptoms of Plaintiff's osteoarthritis." (Court File No. 17 at 17). The decision of the ALJ did not comply with the procedural requirements of the Social Security Administration, and this ...


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