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Fletcher v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 19, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


GREGORY M. SLEET, District Judge.


Pending before the court are: the cross motions for summary judgment filed by plaintiff James Fletcher, Jr. ("Fletcher") and defendant Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin ("Commissioner") (D.I. 11, 14); Magistrate Judge Fallon's Report and Recommendation ("the R&R"), dated February 11, 2015 (D.I. 20); and the Objections filed by Fletcher on February 26, 2015. (D.I. 21.) For the reasons below, the court will overrule Fletcher's objections and adopt the R&R. Thus, the court will deny Fletcher's motion for summary judgment (D.I. 11) and grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 14.)


Fletcher seeks review of the Social Security Administration's denial of his claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Administrative Law Judge ("ALF) Barbara Powell denied Fletcher's application on November 16, 2010, after a hearing. In his motion for summary judgment, Fletcher contends that ALJ Powell's ruling was erroneous because: (1) she improperly discounted the medical opinion of Fletcher's treating physician Dr. Jerome Groll, (2) she improperly assessed the credibility of Fletcher's complaints, and (3) she improperly relied on the testimony of the vocational expert ("VE"). (D.I. 11.)

In the R&R, the magistrate judge recommended that the court affirm the ALJ's determination and grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 20.) Addressing each of Fletcher's contentions, Magistrate Judge Fallon determined that there was substantial evidence supporting AU Powell's decision to reject Dr. Groll's opinion, to discredit Fletcher's complaints, and to accept the VE's recommendation.

In his objections, Fletcher argues that the magistrate judge's recommendation is legally flawed. First, Fletcher maintains that there was not substantial evidence justifying the ALJ's rejection of Dr. Groll's opinion. Specifically, Fletcher argues that Dr. Groll's opinion (1) was grounded in clinical and objective medical findings on the record, and not merely based on Fletcher's subjective complaints of pain; and (2) is not contradicted by the other substantial evidence. Therefore, Fletcher asserts that Dr. Groll's opinion should have been afforded controlling weight. Second, Fletcher argues that Magistrate Judge Fallon incorrectly found substantial evidence in support of the ALJ's decision to discredit Fletcher's claims. He argues that the ALJ impermissibly "cherry-picked" statements from the record in support of her determination, while ignoring others that supported Fletcher's claims. Finally, Fletcher contends that, in light of the other errors, Magistrate Judge Fallon erred in accepting the VE's testimony.


The magistrate judge submitted her R&R pursuant to Rule 72(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; the pending objections, therefore, are dispositive and the court's review is de novo. 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1)(B); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The court may accept, reject, or modify the recommendations of the magistrate judge. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The court also may receive further evidence or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions for further proceedings. Id.

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Boyle v. Cnty. of Allegheny Pa., 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998). Thus, summary judgment is appropriate only if the moving party shows there are no genuine issues of material fact that would permit a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party. Boyle, 139 F.3d at 393. A fact is material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)). An issue is genuine if a reasonable jury could possibly find in favor of the non-moving party with regard to that issue. Id.

In deciding the motion, the court must construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. In determining the appropriateness of summary judgment, a court must review the record as a whole and "draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, [but] may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). The moving party is also entitled to judgment as a matter of law if the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing or adduce evidence on an essential element of its case for which it has the burden of proof Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The standard by which the court decides a summary judgment motion does not change when the parties file cross-motions. Appelmans v. City of Phila., 826 F.2d 214, 216 (3d Cir. 1987). Cross-motions for summary judgment:

are no more than a claim by each side that it alone is entitled to summary judgment, and the making of such inherently contradictory claims does not constitute an agreement that if one is rejected the other is necessarily justified or that the losing party waives judicial consideration and determination whether genuine issues of material fact exist.

Rains v. Cascade Indus., Inc., 402 F.2d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 1968). "The filing of cross-motions for summary judgment does not require the court to grant summary judgment for either party." Krupa v. New ...

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