United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division
LOREN D. HOCHSTETLER, JR., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
R. READE JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
matter before the court is Plaintiff Loren D. Hochstetler,
Jr.'s Objections (docket no. 18) to United States
Magistrate Judge Kelly K.E. Mahoney's Report and
Recommendation (docket no. 17), which recommends that the
court affirm Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's
(“Commissioner”) final decision to deny
disability benefits to Hochstetler.
November 30, 2016, Hochstetler filed a Complaint (docket no.
3) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision denying Hochstetler's application for Title II
disability insurance benefits. On February 15, 2017, the
Commissioner filed an Answer (docket no. 8). On May 18, 2017,
Hochstetler filed the Plaintiff's Brief (docket no. 13).
On June 6, 2017, the Commissioner filed the Defendant's
Brief (docket no. 14). On June 27, 2017, Hochstetler filed a
Reply (docket no. 16). On June 27, 2017, the matter was
referred to Judge Mahoney for issuance of a report and
recommendation. On January 2, 2018, Judge Mahoney issued the
Report and Recommendation. On January 16, 2018, Hochstetler
filed the Objections. The Commissioner has not filed a
response, and the time for doing so has passed. The matter is
fully submitted and ready for decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Review of Final Decision
the Commissioner adopts an Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ”) findings and conclusions as its final
decision, the final decision is subject to judicial review.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The court “will
affirm the Commissioner's decision if supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole.”
Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir.
2012). “Substantial evidence is ‘less than a
preponderance but enough that a reasonable mind would find it
adequate to support the conclusion.'” Id.
(alteration omitted) (quoting Jones v. Astrue, 619
F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2010)). In determining whether
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's
decision, the court “consider[s] the evidence that
supports the Commissioner's decision as well as the
evidence that detracts from it.” Jones, 619
F.3d at 968 (quoting Kluesner v. Astrue, 607 F.3d
533, 536 (8th Cir. 2010)). A court “will not disturb
the denial of benefits so long as the ALJ's decision
falls within the available ‘zone of choice.'”
Casey v. Astrue, 503 F.3d 687, 691 (8th Cir. 2007)
(quoting Nicola v. Astrue, 480 F.3d 885, 886 (8th
Cir. 2007)). “If, after reviewing the entire record, it
is possible to draw two inconsistent positions, and the
Commissioner has adopted one of those positions, ” the
court must affirm the Commissioner's decision.
Anderson, 696 F.3d at 793.
reviewing the Commissioner's decision, the court
“must judge the propriety of such action solely by the
grounds invoked by the agency” and may not affirm the
decision based on a post hoc rationale that “it
considers to be a more adequate or proper basis.”
Sec. & Exch. Comm'n v. Chenery Corp., 332
U.S. 194, 196 (1947); see also, e.g., Hanson v.
Colvin, 760 F.3d 759, 762 (7th Cir. 2014) (applying
Chenery analysis in the context of social security
benefits); Haga v. Astrue, 482 F.3d 1205, 1207-08
(10th Cir. 2007) (same); Strom v. Astrue, Civil No.
07-150, 2008 WL 583690, at *27 (D. Minn. Mar. 3, 2008)
(same). In other words, “‘a reviewing court may
not uphold an agency decision based on reasons not
articulated by the agency, ' when ‘the agency has
failed to make a necessary determination of fact or
policy' upon which the court's alternative basis is
premised.” Banks v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 820,
824 (8th Cir. 2001) (alterations omitted) (quoting
HealthEast Bethesda Lutheran Hosp. & Rehab. Ctr. v.
Shalala, 164 F.3d 415, 418 (8th Cir. 1998)).
Review of Report and Recommendation
standard of review to be applied by the court to a report and
recommendation of a magistrate judge is established by
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.
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Fed. R. Civ. P.
72(b)(3) (providing that, when a party properly objects to a
report and recommendation on a dispositive motion, a district
court must review de novo the magistrate judge's
recommendation). The Eighth Circuit has repeatedly held that
it is reversible error for a district court to fail to
conduct a de novo review of a magistrate judge's report
and recommendation when such review is required. See,
e.g., United States v. Lothridge, 324 F.3d 599,
600 (8th Cir. 2003); Hosna v. Groose, 80 F.3d 298,
306 (8th Cir. 1996); Hudson v. Gammon, 46 F.3d 785,
786 (8th Cir. 1995); Belk v. Purkett, 15 F.3d 803,
815 (8th Cir. 1994). The statute governing review provides
only for de novo review of “those portions of the
report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to
which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
The court reviews the unobjected-to portions of the proposed
findings or recommendations for “plain error.”
See United States v. Rodriguez, 484 F.3d 1006,
1010-11 (8th Cir. 2007) (noting that, where a party does not
file objections to a magistrate's report and
recommendation, the party waives the right to de novo review
and the court will review the decision for plain error).