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Necaisse v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

March 7, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT



         BEFORE THE COURT is the Objection [20] filed by Plaintiff Rodney Necaisse (“Plaintiff”) to the Report and Recommendation [19] of United States Magistrate Judge John C. Gargiulo. After reviewing the record and relevant legal authority, the Court finds that Plaintiff's Objection [20] should be overruled, that the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation [19] should be adopted in its entirety as the finding of the Court, that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [12] should be denied, and that the decision of Defendant, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or “Commissioner”), denying disability benefits should be affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1963, and stopped working in 2005 due to neck and back problems for which he underwent spinal surgeries in 2000, 2005, and 2007. R. [9] at 75. Plaintiff also suffers from depression. Id. On October 3, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security disability insurance benefits, claiming that his disability began on October 9, 2008. Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. [13] at 1. Plaintiff alleges disability due to “back pain, neck pain, leg and foot cramps, anxiety, and depression.” Id.

         The Social Security Administration initially denied Plaintiff's application on January 27, 2011, and thereafter upheld the decision upon reconsideration on March 14, 2011. Id. After a hearing before Administrative Law Judge James Barter (“ALJ Barter”) on March 19, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision on April 27, 2012, concluding that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform unskilled sedentary work and is not disabled. Id.

         Plaintiff sought review of ALJ Barter's decision before the Appeals Council, which vacated the decision and remanded the case with instructions to provide a “more comprehensive discussion of the impact of claimant's mental limitations” on Plaintiff's RFC. R. [9] at 233. The Appeals Council instructed the ALJ to give further consideration to the opinions of treating physician Dr. Gosey, including a December 2011 opinion rendered after the date last insured, because earlier treating notes from the relevant period reflected findings similar to those in the December 2011 opinion. Id. at 233-34. Lastly, the Appeals Council ordered the ALJ to obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert, if warranted by the expanded record on remand, to clarify the effect of Plaintiff's assessed limitations on his occupational base. Id. at 234.

         On remand, Administrative Law Judge Wallace Weakley (“ALJ Weakley”) conducted a video hearing on November 20, 2013, with testimony from Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert. R. [9] at 70. ALJ Weakley subsequently issued a decision on February 7, 2014, finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. Id. at 70-81. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review ALJ Weakley's decision. Id. at 5-8.

         Plaintiff filed this civil action on July 8, 2015, seeking a reversal of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability benefits, or, alternatively, remand of the case for further hearing, and an award of attorneys' fees. Compl. [1] at 1-2. On February 15, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [12] seeking the same relief.

         Following briefing by the parties, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation [19] that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [12] be denied and that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. Plaintiff filed an Objection [20], and Defendant filed a Notice [21] that she would not file a response to the Objection [20], but urged the Court to adopt the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation [19] and affirm the denial of benefits. Def.'s Not. [21] at 1.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Because Plaintiff has filed an Objection [20] to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation [19], the Court is required to “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Longmire v. Gust, 921 F.2d 620, 623 (5th Cir. 1991) (a party filing a written objection is “entitled to a de novo review by an Article III Judge as to those issues to which an objection is made”). In reviewing the decision, the Court “considers only whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards and whether substantial evidence in the record supports [the] decision.” Jones v. Astrue, 691 F.3d 730, 733 (5th Cir. 2012).

         “Substantial evidence is that which is relevant and sufficient for a reasonable mind to accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it must be more than a scintilla, but it need not be a preponderance.” Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 295 (5th Cir. 1992). “A finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate only if no credible evidentiary choices or medical findings support the decision.” Harris v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 413, 417 (5th Cir. 2000). Under this standard, a court cannot “re-weigh the evidence or substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Id.

         To the extent that a party does not object to portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the Court need not conduct a de novo review of the recommendation. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). In such cases, the Court need only review the report and recommendation and determine whether it is either clearly erroneous or contrary to law. United States v. Wilson, 864 F.2d 1219, 1221 (5th Cir. 1989).

         B. Standard for Entitlement to Social Security Benefits

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has explained that

to qualify for disability insurance benefits . . . a claimant must suffer from a disability. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Social Security Act defines a disability as a “medically determinable physical or mental impairment lasting at least twelve months that prevents the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity.” Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 271 (5th Cir. 2002); see also 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Commissioner typically uses a sequential five-step process to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see also Waters v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 716, 718 (5th Cir. 2002).

Copeland v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 920, 923 (5th Cir. 2014). The Fifth Circuit has described the five-step analysis ...

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