United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division
MELODY E. WHEELER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER ON REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
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. 17. Judge Williams recommends that
I affirm the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(the Commissioner) denying plaintiff Melody Wheeler's
application 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. 18) to the R&R on
January 25, 2018. 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.
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 filed:
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 April 26, 2013, due to
radiculitis, which she claimed caused her to lose feeling in
her legs. AR 54. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determined
Wheeler had impairments due to “pain complaints from
childbirth and obesity” (AR 93) but ultimately found
Wheeler not disabled. AR 108. Wheeler filed a complaint in
this court on June 1, 2017, and Judge Williams filed his
R&R on January 11, 2018.
contending that the ALJ's determination was erroneous,
Wheeler makes three arguments: (1) the ALJ's residual
functional capacity (RFC) assessment was not supported by
substantial medical evidence from a treating or examining
source, (2) the ALJ improperly discounted claimant's
subjective allegations without identifying inconsistencies in
the record as a whole and (3) the court should ...