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Lester v. Saul

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia

September 25, 2019

ANDREW SAUL[*], Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         By Standing Order, this action was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Omar J. Aboulhosn for submission of findings and recommendations regarding disposition, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Magistrate Judge Aboulhosn submitted to the court his Proposed Findings and Recommendation (“PF&R”) on October 23, 2018, in which he recommended that the district court deny plaintiff’s request to reverse the final decision; grant defendant’s request to affirm the final decision of the Commissioner; affirm the final decision of the Commissioner; and dismiss and remove this case from the court’s docket.

         I. Background

         The deceased, Chrissy Dawn Lester, (hereinafter referred to as “claimant”), filed her application for Title II benefits on April 23, 2014, alleging disability since December 30, 2013, because of “diabetes, left knee dislocation, bad nerves, depression, anxiety, bronchial asthma, and peripheral arterial disease.” (Tr. at 3050). Her claim was initially denied on September 9, 2014, (Tr. at 2920-24), and again upon reconsideration on March 18, 2015. (Tr. at 2926-28). On April 16, 2015, claimant filed a written request for hearing. (Tr. at 2929). An administrative hearing was held on August 9, 2016 before the Honorable Michael E. Mance, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. at 2859-87). On December 7, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision. (Tr. at 2731-51). On February 10, 2017, claimant sought review by the Appeals Council of the ALJ’s decision. (Tr. at 3013). The ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on March 22, 2018, when the Appeals Council denied Claimant’s Request. (Tr. at 1-7).

         Claimant passed away on March 28, 2018. (ECF No. 1, at 3). On May 9, 2018, Patsy Lester, claimant’s mother (hereinafter referred to as “plaintiff”), acting pro se, timely brought the present action seeking judicial review of the administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Id.

         II. Plaintiff’s Objections to the PF&R

         In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), the parties were allotted fourteen days, plus three mailing days, in which to file any objections to Magistrate Judge Aboulhosn’s PF&R. The failure of any party to file such objections constitutes a waiver of such party’s right to a de novo review by this court. See Snyder v. Ridenour, 889 F.2d 1363 (4th Cir. 1989).

         On November 5, 2018, plaintiff, acting pro se, filed objections to the PF&R. (ECF No. 22). Plaintiff’s objections are reproduced in full:

I object to the findings of this case. I know my daughter was neither able [n]or capable of holding down a job. If she had been able capable of working I would have been the first one to tell her to get out and earn a living for her and her daughter. [Claimant] was severely bipolar plus physical problems. Yes, [claimant] got addicted to narcotics due to mental physical problems and addiction is a horrible disease it is right up in the class of terminal cancer both are deadly! The difference is you have to be severely mentally ill to become an addict. These doctors write prescriptions to[o] freely. Especially people on Medicaid Medicare. Medicaid Medicare should stop paying for narcotics that would make a big dent in the Ophiod [sic] epidemic in our country. Please reconsider the findings [claimant] was absolutely disabled. [Claimant] loved being a nurse. She just wasn’t able or capable of working. Yes she would attend her daughters school functions but I was always with her and done the driving. [Claimant] was in a lot of pain most of the time that’s why she became an addict. (Id.)

         III. Standard of Review of Pro Se Objections

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), the Court must “make a de novo determination upon the record . . . of any portion of the magistrate judge's disposition to which specific written objection has been made.” However, the Court is not required to review, under a de novo or any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as to those portions of the findings or recommendation to which no objections are addressed. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149–50 (1985). Furthermore, de novo review is not required and unnecessary “when a party makes general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47–48 (4th Cir. 1982); see also United States v. Midgette, 478 F.3d 616, 622 (4th Cir. 2007) (“[T]o preserve for appeal an issue in a magistrate judge's report, a party must object to the finding or recommendation on that issue with sufficient specificity so as reasonably to alert the district court of the true ground for the objection.”); McPherson v. Astrue, 605 F.Supp.2d 744, 749 (S.D.W.Va. 2009) (“[F]ailure to file a specific objection constitutes a waiver of the right to de novo review.”).

         “A document filed pro se is ‘to be liberally construed.’ ” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). Specifically as to objections to a PF&R, courts are “under an obligation to read a pro se litigant's objections broadly rather than narrowly.” Beck v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue Serv., 1997 WL 625499, at *1-2 (W.D. N.C. June 20, 1997) (citing Orpiano, 687 F.2d at 48). However, courts “need not . . . address any arguments that fail to point the Court to alleged specific errors the Magistrate Judge made in the [PF&R].” Dippel v. S.C. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 2019 WL 4010420, at *2 (D.S.C. Aug. 26, 2019) (citing Orpiano, 687 F.2d at 47).

         Liberally construing plaintiff’s objections, the court reads plaintiff’s statement as setting forth five primary objections: 1) plaintiff “object[s] to the findings” and asks the court to “reconsider the findings;” 2) claimant’s narcotics addiction meant that claimant was mentally ill and was therefore disabled; 3) claimant suffered from bipolar disorder and was therefore disabled; 4) claimant never drove herself to her daughter’s school functions; and 5) claimant was not capable of working. (ECF No. 22).

         It is not the province of a federal court to make administrative disability decisions. Rather, de novo review of the PF&R in disability cases is limited to determining whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's conclusions. See Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); seealso Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966). Evidence is substantial when, considering the record as a whole, it might be deemed adequate to support a conclusion by a reasonable mind, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), or when it would be sufficient to refuse a directed verdict in a jury trial. Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996). Substantial evidence is not a “large or considerable amount of evidence, ” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988), but is more than a mere scintilla and somewhat less ...

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