United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON REPORT AND
Leonard T. Strand, Chief Judge.
case is before me on a Report & Recommendation (R&R)
by the Honorable C.J. Williams, Chief United States
Magistrate Judge. Doc. No. 18. Judge Williams recommends that
I affirm the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(the Commissioner) denying the applications by plaintiff
Randall Brooks Epting, III, for disability insurance benefits
(DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) under Titles II
and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401
et. seq. (Act).
filed timely objections (Doc. No. 19) to the R&R on
August 17, 2017. The procedural history and relevant facts
are set forth in the R&R and are repeated herein only to
the extent necessary.
Judicial Review of the Commissioner's
Commissioner's decision 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); see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The
findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any
fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive . . . .”). “Substantial evidence is
less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Lewis v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 642, 645 (8th Cir.
2003). The Eighth Circuit explains the standard as
“something less than the weight of the evidence and
[that] allows for the possibility of drawing two inconsistent
conclusions, thus it embodies a zone of choice within which
the [Commissioner] may decide to grant or deny benefits
without being subject to reversal on appeal.”
Culbertson v. Shalala, 30 F.3d 934, 939 (8th Cir.
determine whether the Commissioner's decision meets this
standard, the court considers “all of the evidence that
was before the ALJ, but it [does] not re-weigh the
evidence.” Vester v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 886,
889 (8th Cir. 2005). The court considers both evidence which
supports the Commissioner's decision and evidence that
detracts from it. Kluesner v. Astrue, 607 F.3d 533,
536 (8th Cir. 2010). The court “must search the record
for evidence contradicting the [Commissioner's] decision
and give that evidence appropriate weight when determining
whether the overall evidence in support is
substantial.” Baldwin v. Barnhart, 349 F.3d
549, 555 (8th Cir. 2003) (citing Cline v. Sullivan,
939 F.2d 560, 564 (8th Cir. 1991)).
evaluate the evidence in an appeal of a denial of benefits,
the court must apply a balancing test to assess any
contradictory evidence. Sobania v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Servs., 879 F.2d 441, 444 (8th Cir. 1989).
The court, however, does not “reweigh the evidence
presented to the ALJ, ” Baldwin, 349 F.3d at
555 (citing Bates v. Chater, 54 F.3d 529, 532 (8th
Cir. 1995)), or “review the factual record de
novo.” Roe v. Chater, 92 F.3d 672, 675 (8th
Cir. 1996) (citing Naber v. Shalala, 22 F.3d 186,
188 (8th Cir. 1994)). Instead, if, after reviewing the
evidence, the court “find[s] it possible to draw two
inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those
positions represents the Commissioner's findings, [the
court] must affirm the [Commissioner's] denial of
benefits.” Kluesner, 607 F.3d at 536 (quoting
Finch v. Astrue, 547 F.3d 933, 935 (8th Cir. 2008)).
This is true even if the court “might have weighed the
evidence differently.” Culbertson, 30 F.3d at
939 (quoting Browning v. Sullivan, 958 F.2d 817, 822
(8th Cir. 1992)). The court may not reverse the
Commissioner's decision “merely because substantial
evidence would have supported an opposite decision.”
Baker v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 1147, 1150 (8th Cir.
1984); see also Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 789
(8th Cir. 2005) (“[A]n administrative decision is not
subject to reversal simply because some evidence may support
the opposite conclusion.”).
Review of Report and Recommendation
district judge must review a magistrate judge's R&R
under the following standards:
Within fourteen days after being served with a copy, any
party may serve and file written objections to such proposed
findings and recommendations as provided by rules of court. 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 also Fed. R. Civ. P.
72(b). Thus, when a party objects to any portion of an
R&R, the district judge must undertake a de novo review
of that portion. Any portions of an R&R to which no
objections have been made must be reviewed under at least a
“clearly erroneous” standard. See, e.g.,
Grinder v. Gammon, 73 F.3d 793, 795 (8th Cir. 1996)
(noting that when no objections are filed “[the
district court judge] would only have to review the findings
of the magistrate judge for clear error”). As the
Supreme Court has explained, “[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)).
However, a district judge may elect to review an R&R
under a more-exacting standard even if no objections are
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
Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985). Thus, a
district court may review de novo any issue in a magistrate
judge's report and recommendation at any time.
Id. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has
“emphasized the necessity . . . of retention by the
district court of substantial control over the ultimate
disposition of matters referred to a magistrate.”
Belk v. Purkett, 15 F.3D 803, 815 (8th Cir. 1994).
As this court has previously stated, “[e]ven if the
reviewing court must construe objections liberally to require
de novo review, it is clear to this court that there
is a distinction between making an objection and making no
objection at all . . . .” Lynch v. Astrue, 687
F.Supp.2d 841 (2010) (citing Coop. Fin. Assoc. v.
Garst, 917 F.Supp. 1356, 1373 (N.D. Iowa 1996)). This
court will provide de novo review of all issues that might be
addressed by any objection, but will review for clear error
matters to which no objection at all has been made.
alleged disability beginning November 2, 2012, due to
numerous conditions including marked obesity, mood disorder
NOS, major depressive disorder recurrent, generalized anxiety
disorder, panic disorder without agoraphobia, bipolar
disorder, Cluster B personality traits, schizoid personality
disorder and history of ADHD, combined type. AR 26. An
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found Epting was able to
perform past relevant work as a farm worker and, therefore,
was not disabled. AR 35.
raises three issues in arguing that the ALJ erred: (1) the
ALJ's opinion was not supported by substantial evidence
on the record, (2) the ALJ improperly rejected Epting's
subjective allegations and (3) the ALJ failed to give
appropriate weight to the opinions of his treating
physicians. Doc. No. 14; Doc. No. 18 at 13. Judge Williams
addressed each argument separately.
respect to whether the ALJ's decision was supported by
substantial evidence, Judge Williams found that the ALJ
properly considered all symptoms reflected in the medical
records and assigned appropriate weight to the medical
opinions to the extent they were consistent with the record
as a whole. Doc. No. 18 at 13-14. Judge Williams stated:
[T]he ALJ's residual functional capacity assessment is
supported by the required substantial medical evidence, and
the ALJ gave appropriate weight to the medical opinions and
reconciliation of those opinions with the medical records.
See Fentress v. Berryhill, 854 F.3d 1016, 1017 (8th
Cir. 2017) (holding that a court will uphold a decision to
deny benefits if that decision is supported by substantial
evidence in the record as a whole). In my own review of the
administrative and medical records, I find support for the
ALJ's conclusion that claimant's interactions with
both Dr. Lassise and Dr. Roland are inconsistent with the
other records and level of claimant's functioning.
Additionally, I find that the records as a whole do not
describe physical or mental limitations that would support a
finding of disability as defined in 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(2)(A). Igo v. Colvin, 839 F.3d 724, 731 (8th