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Gutierrez v. Colvin

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

October 3, 2014

GLORIA GUTIERREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND THE ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS TO REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MARK W. BENNETT, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This case is before me on a Report and Recommendation (R&R) from Judge Strand, filed on June 25, 2014. Report (docket no.17). In the R&R, Judge Strand recommends that I affirm the Commissioner's decision.

On July 9, 2014, Gloria Gutierrez (Gutierrez) filed timely objections to the R&R. Plaintiff's Objections to the Report and Recommendation (hereafter Plaintiff's Objections) (docket no. 18). Gutierrez's criticism of the R&R is two-fold: (1) the R&R erred in concluding that Dr. Rodney Dean's (Dr. Dean) opinions do not warrant reversal with directions to either award benefits or further proceedings; and (2) the R&R erred in sustaining the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) credibility analysis of the plaintiff. Gutierrez requests that, as a result of her mental and physical impairments, the case should be remanded to the Social Security Administration (SSA) with directions to award disability and Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI) benefits. Plaintiff's Objections at 2. Alternatively, Gutierrez requests that the case be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. Id.

On July 16, 2014, the Commissioner filed a response to Gutierrez's objections. Defendant's Response (docket no. 19). For the reasons discussed below, I accept the R&R, and affirm the Commissioner's decision that Gutierrez is not disabled. Accordingly, I enter judgment in favor of the Commissioner and against Gutierrez.

II. DISABILITY CLAIM AND ONSET DATE

On April 26, 2012, Gutierrez filed for Social Security Disability Benefits (DIB) and SSI under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq . The Record (hereafter Tr.) 12. She alleged a disability onset date of February 3, 2012. Id. She claimed that her disability was a consequence of her anxiety, panic attacks, depression, a dislocated disc in her lower back, neck pain, arthritis, a swollen right leg, and suicidal thoughts. Tr. 12, 276.

III. DISCUSSION

The sole issue I address is whether to accept Judge Strand's R&R, and affirm the finding that Gutierrez was not disabled from February 3, 2012, through the date of the ALJ's decision on May 23, 2013. To resolve this issue, I review de novo the portions of the R&R to which Gutierrez objects. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Gutierrez raises two objections, and I consider each in turn: whether (1) the R&R properly considered Dr. Dean's opinions, and (2) the R&R correctly analyzed Gutierrez's credibility. The Commissioner's decision on these matters must be affirmed "if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole." Pelkey v. Barnhart , 433 F.3d 575, 577 (8th Cir. 2006). "Substantial evidence is less than preponderance, but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion." Finch v. Astrue , 547 F.3d 933, 935 (8th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Based on her objections, Gutierrez requests that I reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand the case. Gutierrez's criticisms of the R&R are identical to two criticisms that she made about the ALJ's opinion. See, e.g. , Plaintiff's Objections at 10-18; see also Plaintiff's Brief (docket no. 13), 12-15, 16-17; see also Plaintiff's Reply (docket no. 15), 2-5. Also, as the defendant points out, "Much of plaintiff's arguments amount to requesting that this Court reweigh the evidence." Defendant's Response 2. However, my role is not to "reweigh the evidence presented to the ALJ or to try the issue[s]... de novo." Howe v. Astrue , 499 F.3d 835, 839 (8th Cir. 2007).

A. Judge Strand Properly Discounted Dr. Dean's Opinions

1. Legal Standard

In his R&R, Judge Strand nicely summarizes the role of a reviewing judge when considering an ALJ's decision and when there is newly submitted evidence that was not in the record until after the ALJ issued its decision. In the words of Judge Strand, "[M]y role is to determine whether the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, including the new evidence submitted after the determination was made.'" Report at 11 (citing to Bergmann v. Apfel , 207 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000) (quoting Riley v. Shalala , 18 F.3d 619, 622 (8th Cir. 1994)). He continues: "In ...


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