United States District Court, D. New Mexico
ORDER OVERRULING DEFENDANT'S OBJECTIONS TO
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S AMENDED PROPOSED FINDINGS AND
RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION AND ADOPTING THE AMENDED PROPOSED
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION
VÁZQUEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER comes before the Court on (1) Defendant's
Opposed Motion for Remand Pursuant to Sentence Four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) (“Motion”), filed on June
18, 2019 (Doc. 22); (2) the Magistrate Judge's Amended
Proposed Findings and Recommended Disposition (“Amended
PFRD”) (Doc. 31), filed October 2, 2019; and (3)
Defendant's Objections to Amended PFRD
(“Objections”) (Doc. 32), filed October 16,
2019. The Court, having considered the pending
Motion and Objections, the record, and the relevant law,
finds that Defendant's Objections are not well-taken and
will overrule them and adopt the Amended PFRD.
8, 2019, this Court issued an Order of Reference referring
this case to United States Magistrate Judge John F.
Robbenhaar for a recommended disposition. Doc. 24. The
Magistrate Judge filed a PFRD pursuant to the Order of
Reference on August 26, 2019. Doc. 28. Acting under the
Court's inherent authority to reconsider its previous
ruling, the Magistrate Judge filed an Amended PFRD on October
2, 2019. Doc. 31. Defendant timely filed Objections to the
Amended PFRD on October 16, 2019 (Doc. 32), to which
Plaintiff responded on October 25, 2019 (Doc. 33).
Defendant's Motion, the Amended PFRD, and Defendant's
Objections are now before the Court.
party files timely written objections to a magistrate
judge's recommendation on a dispositive matter, the
district court must conduct a de novo review, and
“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)(C). De novo
review requires the district judge to consider relevant
evidence in the record and not merely to review the
magistrate judge's recommendation. In re Griego,
64 F.3d 580, 583-84 (10th Cir. 1995). “[A] party's
objections to the magistrate judge's [PFRD] must be both
timely and specific to preserve an issue for de novo
review by the district court or for appellate review.”
One Parcel of Real Prop., With Bldgs., Appurtenances,
Improvements, & Contents, 73 F.3d, 1057 1060 (10th
applying for Title II disability benefits, Plaintiff alleged
disability beginning April 2, 2009, because of chronic back
pain, right knee and neck pain, and right-hand impairment.
Tr. 213. This is the second time that Plaintiff has appealed
the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”)
determination before this Court. In the ALJ's partially
favorable determination at issue here, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was disabled since November 26, 2013, but not
disabled from his alleged onset date through November 26,
2013 (“the relevant period of time”). Tr. 671-87.
The parties do not dispute the ALJ's partially favorable
finding. Additionally, the parties agree that
Plaintiff's case should be remanded to the Social
Security Administration to determine whether Plaintiff was
disabled during the relevant period of time. Doc. 22 and Doc.
23 at 1. The parties disagree, however, on whether the case
should be remanded for additional administrative proceedings
or whether the case should be remanded for an immediate award
of benefits. Docs. 22, 23, 25.
Amended PFRD, the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to sentence four
of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), found that the ALJ's decision
that Plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant period of
time was not supported by substantial evidence and that the
ALJ did not apply the correct legal standards in making her
determination. Doc. 31 at 10-19. Concluding that additional
administrative proceedings would not serve any useful purpose
and would delay the appropriate determination and award of
benefits, the Magistrate Judge recommended that the case be
remanded for an immediate award of damages. Id. at
19-25. In support of this recommendation, the Magistrate
Judge found that the evidence upon which the Commissioner
relied in deciding that Plaintiff was not disabled during the
relevant period of time was not supported by substantial
evidence. Id. at 22-23. The Magistrate Judge further
found that all of the treating and examining source opinion
evidence during the relevant period of time supported a
finding of disability. Id. at 23-25.
objects to the Magistrate Judge's findings and
recommendation, arguing that: (1) the Magistrate Judge
improperly reweighed the evidence and made findings of fact,
which is a role that Congress delegated to the Commissioner;
(2) the record does not support a finding of disability as a
matter of law with respect to the time period between April
2009 and November 2013; and (3) the equitable considerations
at issue in the cases on which Plaintiff has relied are
inapposite because Plaintiff was found disabled beginning in
November 2013 and has been eligible for benefits on an
ongoing basis. Doc. 32 at 2-5. Defendant requests that the
Court reject the Magistrate Judge's Amended PFRD and
instead remand this matter for additional administrative
proceedings. Id. at 5.
Court has considered Defendant's Objections and the
relevant law, and, based on a de novo review of the
record, finds that the Objections are without merit, and will
adopt the Magistrate Judge's Amended PFRD in whole.
courts have discretion to remand either for further
administrative proceedings or for an immediate award of
benefits. Ragland v. Shalala, 992 F.2d 1056, 1060
(10th Cir. 1993). In making this decision, courts should
consider both “the length of time the matter has been
pending and whether or not ‘given the available
evidence, remand for additional fact-finding would serve
[any] useful purpose [or] would merely delay the receipt of
benefits.'” Salazar v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d
615, 626 (10th Cir. 2006) (quoting Harris v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 821 F.2d 541, 545 (10th Cir.
1987)). When the Commissioner has failed to satisfy his
burden of proof, and when there has been a long delay as a
result of his erroneous disposition of the proceedings,
remand for an immediate award of benefits may be appropriate.
Ragland, 992 F.2d at 1060 (remanding for an
immediate award of benefits “[i]n light of the
Secretary's patent failure to satisfy the burden of proof
at step five, and the long delay that has already occurred as
a result of the Secretary's erroneous disposition of the
proceedings”). The Commissioner “is not entitled
to adjudicate a case ad infinitum until he correctly
applies the proper legal standard and gathers evidence to
support his conclusion.” Sisco v. U.S. Dep't of
Health & Human Servs., 10 F.3d 739, 746 (10th Cir.
1993) (quoting Thaete v. Shalala, 826 F.Supp. 1250,
1252 (D. Colo. 1993)). The decision to direct an award of
benefits should be made only when the administrative record
has been fully developed and when substantial and
uncontradicted evidence in the record as a whole indicates
that the claimant is disabled and entitled to benefits.
Gilliland v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 178, 184-85 (3d Cir.
The Magistrate Judge Did Not Reweigh the
first argues that in recommending an immediate award of
benefits on remand, the Magistrate Judge reweighed the
evidence and made findings of fact, which are tasks that
Congress delegated to the Commissioner. Doc. 32 at 2.
Specifically, Defendant contends that the Magistrate Judge
engaged in improper reweighing of the evidence to conclude
that “when the treating physician opinion evidence is
properly evaluated and weighed, there is no reasonable
probability that Mr. Rodriguez would be denied
benefits.” Id. at 4. Defendant cites
Miller v. Chater, 99 F.3d 972, 978 (10th Cir. 1996),
for the proposition that the Court should have declined to
reweigh the evidence and instead allow the “agency to
act in its congressionally-delegated role to weigh the
conflicting evidence and make findings of
fact.” Id. at 4.
Tenth Circuit law, a reviewing court should not reweigh
evidence but rather should review the ALJ's decision for
the sole purpose of determining whether the ALJ applied the
correct legal standards and whether the ALJ's factual
findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record.
Branum v. Barnhart,385 F.3d 1268, 1270 (10th Cir.
2004). Id. While it is not the reviewing court's
job to reweigh the evidence, the reviewing court nonetheless
has a duty to meticulously examine the record and make its
determination on the record as a whole. Broadbent v.
Harris, 698 F.2d 407, 414 (10th Cir. 1983). Reweighing
evidence occurs when the reviewing court chooses to
substitute its judgment for that of the agency to reach a
different conclusion where the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards and the ALJ's determination was supported by
substantial evidence. See, e.g., Flaherty v. Astrue,
515 F.3d 1067, 1071 (10th Cir. 2007) (declining to reweigh
evidence where claimant asked court to consider effects of
her fibromyalgia in combination with her other impairments,
but where record reflected that ALJ adequately considered
claimant's impairments in combination); White v.
Barnhart, 298 F.3d 903, 907-08 (10th Cir. 2001) (finding
that had Court been factfinder it may have reached a
different conclusion, but that ALJ had articulated adequate
reasons for disregarding opinion evidence that were supported
by substantial evidence, and to disregard ALJ's decision
would be to reweigh evidence); Hamilton v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495, 1500 (10th
Cir. 1992) (finding that claimant's arguments that
strength of evidence favored disability improperly asked
court to reweigh evidence where ALJ's determination was
supported by substantial evidence); Lee v.
Berryhill, 669 Fed.Appx. 589, 591-92 (10th Cir. 2017)
(unpublished) (declining to reweigh evidence where claimant
pointed to evidence demonstrating that she needed additional
breaks to attend to her insulin pump, but where substantial