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Ridge v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

June 19, 2019

CATHY DARLENE RIDGE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          Susan K. Lee Magistrate Judge

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TRAVIS R. McDONOUGH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment (Docs. 22, 31). The Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Susan K. Lee, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Rule 72 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for a report and recommendation. On May 10, 2019, Magistrate Judge Lee 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. 33.) Plaintiff timely filed objections to Magistrate Judge Lee's report and recommendation (Doc. 34).[1] For the reasons stated below, the Court will: (1) ACCEPT and ADOPT the magistrate judge's report and recommendation (Doc. 33); (2) DENY Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 22); (3) GRANT the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 32); and (4) AFFIRM the Commissioner's finding that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In her report and recommendation, Magistrate Judge Lee detailed the procedural and factual background underlying this matter. The parties have not objected to Magistrate Judge Lee'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 Lee's report and recommendation, the Court ADOPTS BY REFERENCE the facts set forth in the report and recommendation (Doc. 33).

         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

         Plaintiff raises two objections to Magistrate Judge Lee's report and recommendation. First, Plaintiff argues that the magistrate judge erred in finding that the ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination is supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ did not properly consider Plaintiff's mental limitations. (Doc. 34, at 1-4.) Second, Plaintiff argues that the magistrate judge erred in finding that the ALJ properly considered Dr. Goewey's findings of Plaintiff's physical limitations in his RFC determination. (Id. at 4-6.)

         A. Whether the ALJ Properly Considered Plaintiff's Mental Limitations in Determining Her Residual Functional Capacity

         The Social Security Administration determines eligibility for disability benefits by following a five-step process.[2] 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). As relevant here, at Step Three of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ is tasked with considering the medical severity of the claimant's impairments. If an impairment meets or equals a listing, the ALJ will find that the claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). The ALJ must also determine a claimant's RFC, or her ability to do physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite limitations from his impairments, before considering Step Four. See § 404.1520(e). When making an RFC assessment, “the ALJ must consider limitations and restrictions imposed by all of [the] individual's impairments, ...


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