United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
William E. Smith Chief Judge.
the Court is Magistrate Judge Sullivan's Report and
Recommendation (“R. & R.”) (ECF No. 16),
which recommends that the Court deny Plaintiff's Motion
to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner (ECF No. 9) and
grant Defendant's Motion to Affirm the Decision (ECF No.
11) and to which Plaintiff objected (ECF No. 18). After
careful review of the R. & R. and the relevant papers,
the Court accepts the R. & R. over Plaintiff's
objection and adopts its recommendations and reasoning.
detailed recitation of the facts can be found in the R. &
R. and so only a very brief summary follows here. Plaintiff
has applied for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) three times over the past ten years:
first in 2008, then in 2011, and again in 2014. (R. & R.
2-3.) Each application was based on allegations that
Plaintiff suffered from back pain caused by a workplace
injury in 2008, as well as mental impairments due to
Plaintiff's low I.Q. (Id.) The first two
applications were denied and Plaintiff did not appeal from
those denials. (Id.) By the time Plaintiff filed his
third DIB application, the one currently under review, he had
almost exhausted the disability insurance he had built up
during his years of working; his maximum DIB recovery in this
case would have spanned only the seven-month period between
his alleged disability onset date (August 30, 2012) and his
date-last-insured (March 31, 2013). (Id. at 3.) The
third application was also denied, giving rise to this
STANDARD OF REVIEW
an objection has been properly filed, the Court reviews de
novo an R. & R. addressing a dispositive matter. See
Emissive Energy Corp. v. SPA-Simrad, Inc., 788 F.Supp.2d
40, 42 (D.R.I. 2011); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). Accordingly, the
Court reviews the decision of the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) using the same standard of review that
was applied by the Magistrate Judge.
reviewing the Commissioner of Social Security's decision
denying disability benefits, the Commissioner's findings
of fact are conclusive if they are supported by substantial
evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence
is “more than a mere scintilla” - that is,
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The
determination of substantiality is based upon an evaluation
of the record as a whole. Brown v. Apfel, 71
F.Supp.2d 28, 30 (D.R.I. 1999); see also Parker v.
Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177, 1180 (11th Cir. 1986) (stating
that the court must also consider evidence contrary to the
evidence on which the Commissioner relied). Once the Court
concludes that the decision is supported by substantial
evidence, it must affirm that decision, even if the Court
would have reached a contrary result as the finder of fact.
Rodriguez Pagan v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 819 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1987).
crux of Plaintiff's argument is that the ALJ's
decision was “poorly-explained” and not based on
substantial evidence and, therefore, the Magistrate Judge was
wrong to affirm it. (Pl.'s Obj. to R. & R. 7, 14.) He
advances three specific arguments to support his Objection:
(1) that the Magistrate Judge “understated the
significance of the issues presented” (Id. at
3); (2) that the Magistrate Judge did not adequately
summarize the medical evidence Plaintiff presented
(Id. at 4-5); and (3) that the ALJ and the
Magistrate Judge made improper medical judgments about the
meaning of the 2012 MRI and the 2009 I.Q. scores
(Id. at 6-9.) Plaintiff also posits a blanket
objection to as-yet unidentified errors in the in the R.
& R., stating: “For any argument that [Plaintiff]
raised in his primary memorandum and reply memorandum that
the Magistrate did not specifically address in her [R. &
R.], [Plaintiff] objects to the failure to address
them.” (Id. at 14.)
Magistrate Judge Did Not Understate the Significance of the
takes umbrage at the Magistrate Judge's R. & R.
because he feels that she “understated the significance
of the issues presented” when she found that Plaintiff
sought DIB for a “relatively short” seven-month
period. (Id. at 3; R. & R 21.) According to
Plaintiff, that characterization does not adequately capture
the fact that, in the absence of DIB, Plaintiff was forced to
“spen[d] all of his savings down to below $2,
000.00” and “liv[e] on the street” in order
to become eligible to receive Social Security Insurance
(“SSI”) benefits, which ultimately provided him
with only about eighty percent of the income he would have
been entitled to receive from DIB. (Pl.'s Obj. to R.
& R. 4.) Plaintiff claims that DIB and SSI are
fundamentally different benefits because the former is an
earned benefit that not subject to income limitations, while
the latter is a welfare benefit, available only to
individuals who possess fewer than $2, 000.00 in assets and
is, therefore, inherently less reliable. (Id. at
argument is a non-starter because the difference between DIB
and SSI benefits was not material (or even collateral) to the
disposition of this case. As such, the Magistrate Judge's
alleged “understatement” of the issues does not
require the Court to reject her R. & R.
Magistrate Judge Did Not Wrongly Assess Plaintiff's
Plaintiff next argues that the Magistrate Judge improperly
took a “constricted review of the medical
evidence” when she relied on doctors' notes from
the Rhode Island Free Clinic discussing the 2012 MRI that
were created during the seven-month period in issue.
(Id. 4-5.) According to Plaintiff, “the few
notes available from the Rhode Island ...