United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division
VANESSA K. JENNINGS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Defendant.
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. 24. Judge Williams recommends that
I reverse and remand the decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (the Commissioner) denying the applications
by plaintiff Vanessa K. Jennings 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).
Williams recommends I remand with instructions to reevaluate
whether work exists in significant numbers in the national
economy that Jennings can perform. If the Commissioner finds
Jennings can perform the job of document preparer, then Judge
Williams recommends I instruct the Commissioner to make
specific findings with respect to whether Jennings has the
reasoning level necessary to perform the job. Neither party
has objected to the R&R. The deadline for such objections
Judicial Review of the Commissioner's Decision
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. 1994).
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." Wester 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 Goffv. 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 ofBessemer City, 470 U.S.
564, 573 (1985) (quoting United States v. U.S. Gypsum