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Gulick v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division

March 11, 2014

DAVID SCOTT GULICK, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER REGARDING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MARK W. BENNETT, District Judge.

This case is before me on a Report and Recommendation (R&R) from Magistrate Judge Leonard Strand, filed on January 17, 2014 (docket no. 13). In the R&R, Judge Strand recommends that I reverse a decision of the Social Security Commissioner (the Commissioner) denying plaintiff David Gulick's (Gulick's) application for disability benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., and remand this case for further proceedings. Specifically, Judge Strand held that the vocational expert (VE) that testified at Gulick's hearing gave unclear testimony, which the administrative law judge (ALJ) incorrectly relied on in finding, at Step 5, that Gulick can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Judge Strand recommends that I remand this case so that the ALJ can clarify the record and "obtain competent evidence as to whether Gulick's RFC permits him to perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy" (docket no. 13, at 32).

I review Judge Strand's R&R pursuant to the statutory standards found in 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1):

A judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. A judge of the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. The judge may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.

28. U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) (stating identical requirements); N.D. Ia. L.R. 72, 72.1 (allowing the referral of dispositive matters to a magistrate judge but not articulating any standards to review the magistrate judge's R&R). While examining these statutory standards, the United States Supreme Court explained:

Any party that desires plenary consideration by the Article III judge of any issue need only ask. Moreover, while the statute does not require the judge to review an issue de novo if no objections are filed, it does not preclude further review by the district judge, sua sponte or at the request of a party, under a de novo or any other standard.

Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 154 (1985). Thus, a district court may review de novo any issue in a magistrate judge's R&R at any time. Id. If a party files an objection to the magistrate judge's R&R, however, the district court must "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). In the absence of an objection, the district court is not required "to give any more consideration to the magistrate's report than the court considers appropriate." Thomas, 474 U.S. at 150.

In this case, the parties filed no objections to the R&R. As a result, the parties waive both their right for me to review the R&R de novo and their right to appeal from Judge Strand's findings of fact. United States v. Wise, 588 F.3d 531, 537 n.5 (8th Cir. 2009). Thus, I will review Judge Strand's R&R under a clearly erroneous standard of review. See Grinder v. Gammon, 73 F.3d 793, 795 (8th Cir. 1996) (noting when no objections are filed and the time for filing objections has expired, "[the district court judge] would only have to review the findings of the magistrate judge for clear error"); Taylor v. Farrier, 910 F.2d 518, 520 (8th Cir. 1990) (noting the advisory committee's note to Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) indicates "when no timely objection is filed the court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record"). The United States Supreme Court has explained that "[a] finding is clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Anderson v. City of Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 573 (1985) (quoting United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)).

While I examine Judge Strand's R&R for clear error, I also review the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and "whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole." Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d 1040, 1042 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Haggard v. Apfel, 175 F.3d 591, 594 (8th Cir. 1999)). Under this deferential standard, "[s]ubstantial evidence is less than a preponderance but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion." Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002); see also Page, 484 F.3d at 1042. In reviewing the Commissioner's denial of benefits to determine if it is supported by substantial evidence, the court must "not only... consider evidence in the record that supports the Commissioner's determination, but also any evidence that detracts from that conclusion." Draper v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 1127, 1130 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing Hutsell v. Massanari, 259 F.3d 707, 711 (8th Cir. 2001)). Nonetheless, even if a court "might have reached a different conclusion had [it] been the initial finder of fact, " the Commissioner's decision will not be disturbed "unless the record contains insufficient evidence to support the outcome." See Nicola v. Astrue, 480 F.3d 885, 886 (8th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted).

Having reviewed the record, and Judge Strand's very thorough and well-written findings of fact and conclusions of law in the R&R, I find no clear error and adopt the R&R (docket no. 13). The Commissioner's decision is reversed and this case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with Judge Strand's R&R. The Clerk shall enter judgment against the Commissioner and in favor of Gulick.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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