United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western 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 Kelly K.E. Mahoney, Chief United States
Magistrate Judge. Doc. No. 18. Judge Mahoney recommends that
I affirm the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(the Commissioner) denying plaintiff Barbara Lynn
Castillo's application for supplemental security income
(SSI) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. §§ 1381, et. seq. (Act). Castillo filed a
timely objection on December 26, 2018. Doc. No. 19. The
Commissioner has not responded and the deadline for a
response has expired.
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 . . . 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) (citation omitted).
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 (citation omitted), or “review the factual record
de novo.” Roe v. Chater, 92 F.3d 672, 675 (8th
Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). 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 (citation omitted). 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
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).
applied for SSI on July 31, 2014, alleging an onset date of
July 14, 2014, due to bipolar disorder, back problems,
depression, anxiety, arthritis in her spine and
asthma. AR 12, 28. After a hearing, an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) applied the familiar five-step
evaluation and found there were jobs in significant numbers
in the national economy that Castillo could perform based on
her residual functional capacity (RFC) and, therefore, she
was not disabled as defined in the Act. AR 19-20. Castillo
argues the ALJ erred in determining that she was not disabled
1. The ALJ failed to properly assess Castillo's
2. The ALJ failed to properly weigh the medical opinions of
Dr. Jessica Luitjohan and Physical Therapist Brian Owens.
3. The ALJ's RFC is not supported by medical evidence or
substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
See Doc. No. 13 at 4. Judge Mahoney addressed each
argument in her R&R.
Judge Mahoney found that the ALJ could properly find
Castillo's reported activities of daily living undermined
her subjective complaints. Doc. No. 18 at 5-6. She noted
Castillo experienced pain in her hips and back that “is
not constant, but rather ‘comes and goes'”
and experiences pain if she sits or walks too long.
Id. at 5. Judge Mahoney also noted that Castillo
prepared meals, mowed the lawn, played with her
grandchildren, attended school activities, shopped, performed
household chores and helped her boyfriend with activities.
Id. at 6. Judge Mahoney also highlighted other
reasons the ALJ did not fully credit Castillo's
complaints, such as the frequency and nature of treatments,
“the conservative nature” of her mental-health
treatments, Castillo's contradictory reports to her
treatment providers and objective medical evidence.
Id. at 7. Judge Mahoney found “[t]he ALJ gave
multiple, good reasons for his determination that
Castillo's statements about her impairments and their
limiting effects were not consistent with other evidence.
Accordingly, the ALJ did not err in assessing Castillo's
subjective complaints.” Id. at 8.
Mahoney next addressed the ALJ's assessment of medical
opinions provided by Dr. Luitjohan and physical therapist
Owens. First, Judge Mahoney stated that the ALJ discounted
Dr. Luitjohan's limitation on public interaction because
it was based on Castillo's subjective complaints and Dr.
Luitjohan had no first-hand knowledge of Castillo's
abilities beyond a single clinical interview. Id. at
9. Judge Mahoney found this was a “proper reason for
not accepting this portion of Dr. Luitjohan's
Judge Mahoney stated:
The ALJ found Dr. Luitjohan's other opinions were
“generally consistent” with Castillo's other
mental status examinations. AR 18. Overall, the ALJ gave Dr.
Luitjohan's opinion “some weight.”
Id. As discussed further below, the ALJ incorporated
appropriate mental limitations in determining Castillo's
RFC, which were supported (at least in part) with Dr.
Luitjohan's opinion. The ALJ thus gave a good reason for
the weight given to Dr. Luitjohan's opinion.
physical therapist Owens, the ALJ's reasons for giving
limited weight to his opinion were that Owens was not an
acceptable medical source and his opinion was inconsistent
with physical examinations and Castillo's daily
activities. Id. at 10. Judge Mahoney found these
were good reasons:
The ALJ also noted (earlier in his opinion) that Therapist
Owens found “few abnormalities” during his
physical examination of Castillo. AR 18 (only finding
“tenderness to palpation and slight limitation in range
of motion, ” while other records consistently showed
normal gait, strength, muscle tone, and sensation);
see (Therapist Owens's physical examination
notes). An ALJ may discount opinions of a consultative
examiner that are not supported by the physical examination
record because “[a]n absence of clinical findings
supports the rejection of [an examiner's] opinion as to
physical limitations.” Boyd v. ...