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Whitaker v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Winchester

September 13, 2017

JAMES TODD WHITAKER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          Christopher H. Steger Magistrate Judge

          ORDER

          TRAVIS R. MCDONOUGH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 20, 23.) The Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Christopher H. Steger, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Rule 72 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for a report and recommendation. On August 11, 2017, Magistrate Judge Steger entered a report and recommendation, recommending that the Court: (1) deny Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment; (2) grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment; and (3) affirm the Commissioner's finding that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act. (See generally Doc. 25.) Plaintiff timely filed objections to Magistrate Judge Steger's report and recommendation (Doc. 26), and Defendant responded (Doc. 27). For the reasons stated herein, the Court will: (1) ACCEPT and ADOPT the magistrate judge's report and recommendation (Doc. 25); (2) DENY Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 20); (3) GRANT the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 23); and (4) AFFIRM the Commissioner's finding that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In his report and recommendation, Magistrate Judge Steger detailed the procedural and factual background underlying this matter. The parties have not objected to Magistrate Judge Steger's recitation of the facts, and the Court finds that the facts set forth in the report and recommendation are accurate. Accordingly, for the purposes of reviewing Plaintiff's objections to Magistrate Judge Steger's report and recommendation, the Court ADOPTS BY REFERENCE the facts set forth in the report and recommendation. (Doc. 25.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the report and recommendation to which objections are made and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the magistrate judge's findings or recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). In doing so, the Court's standard of review is essentially the same as the magistrate judge's-review is limited to determining whether the administrative law judge's (“ALJ”) findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Brainard v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989) (per curiam). “Substantial evidence” is “more than a mere scintilla” and means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). If supported by substantial evidence, the Court must affirm the ALJ's findings, even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. Jones v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 475 (6th Cir. 2003).

         Although the Court is required to engage in a de novo review of specific objections, if the objections merely restate the arguments asserted in Plaintiff's earlier motion, which were addressed by the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the Court may deem those objections waived. See VanDiver v. Martin, 304 F.Supp.2d 934, 937 (E.D. Mich. 2004). “A general objection, or one that merely restates the arguments previously presented is not sufficient to alert the court to alleged errors on the part of the magistrate judge. An ‘objection' that does nothing more than state a disagreement with a magistrate's suggested resolution, or simply summarizes what has been presented before, is not an ‘objection' as that term is used in this context.” Id. The Sixth Circuit has also explained that:

A general objection to the entirety of the magistrate's report has the same effects as would a failure to object. The district court's attention is not focused on any specific issues for review, thereby making the initial reference to the magistrate useless. The functions of the district court are effectively duplicated as both the magistrate and the district court perform identical tasks. This duplication of time and effort wastes judicial resources rather than saving them, and runs contrary to the purposes of the Magistrates Act.

Howard v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991).

         III. ANALYSIS

         In this case, Plaintiff advances four primary objections to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ: (1) conducted an improper “Step Three” evaluation; (2) failed to give appropriate weight to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician; (3) failed to give appropriate weight to Plaintiff's testimony; and (4) posed a hypothetical question that was not supported by substantial evidence. (Doc. 26.) Based on these arguments, Plaintiff contends the magistrate judge erred by failing to overrule the ALJ's decision denying him disability benefits. (See id.)

         A. Step Three Evaluation

         In his objections to the report and recommendation, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ conducted an improper Step Three evaluation.[1] (Doc. 26, at 1.) Plaintiff makes several unique, though interrelated, arguments as to why the ALJ's Step ...


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