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Quiles v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 10, 2016

ADALAIDA QUILES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

RULING ON PLAINTIFF’S OBJECTION TO THE MAGISTRATE’S RECOMMENDED RULING

STEFAN R. UNDERHILL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Adalaida Quiles appealed from the adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her applications for a period of disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. On January 28, 2015, U.S. Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel issued a recommended ruling (the “Recommended Ruling”) recommending that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed (doc. # 24). Quiles filed an objection to portions of the Recommended Ruling on February 23, 2015 (doc. # 29). For the reasons set forth below, Quiles’s objection is rejected. The Recommended Ruling is adopted and the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

I. Background

The court assumes the parties’ familiarity with the underlying facts. A full statement of the relevant facts can be found in Magistrate Judge Garfinkel’s Recommended Ruling. See Recommended Ruling, Quiles v. Colvin, 3:13-cv-1905 (doc. # 24).

II. Standard of Review

“In the face of an objection to a Magistrate Judge’s recommended ruling, the [d]istrict [c]ourt makes a de novo determination of those portions of the recommended ruling to which an objection is made.” Smith v. Barnhart, 406 F.Supp.2d 209, 212 (D. Conn. 2005); see also Burden v. Astrue, 588 F.Supp.2d 269, 271 (D. Conn. 2008). The court may adopt, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the Magistrate Judge's recommended ruling. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b).

A district court may enter a judgment “affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision is limited. Yancey v. Apfel, 145 F.3d 106, 111 (2d Cir. 1998). It is not the court’s function to determine de novo whether the claimant was disabled. See Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998). Rather, the court must review the record to determine first whether the correct legal standard was applied and then whether the record contains substantial evidence to support the decision of the Commissioner. 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 . . . .”); see Bubnis v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 177, 181 (2d Cir. 1998); Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998).

When determining whether the Commissioner’s decision is supported by substantial evidence, the court must consider the entire record, examining the evidence from both sides. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence need not compel the Commissioner’s decision; rather substantial evidence need only be evidence that “a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support [the] conclusion” being challenged. Veino v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 578, 586 (2d Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “Even where the administrative record may also adequately support contrary findings on particular issues, the ALJ’s factual findings must be given conclusive effect so long as they are supported by substantial evidence.” Genier v. Astrue, 606 F.3d 46, 49 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

III. Discussion

Quiles raises four objections to Magistrate Judge Garfinkel’s Recommended Ruling, arguing that the ruling errs by: (1) rejecting Quiles’s assertion that she was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia; (2) rejecting Quiles’s claim that she was prejudiced by the exclusion of relevant records; (3) finding that Dr. Gross’s opinion was retroactive to 2009; and (4) finding that a therapist and nurse were not acceptable medical sources for purposes of establishing the weight to give to their opinions. Those objections are considered in turn.

A. Diagnosis of Fibromyalgia

First, Quiles objects to the treatment of a particular physician’s note in the Recommended Ruling. Judge Garfinkel characterized that note as indicating that Quiles had reported a history of fibromyalgia, and he reasoned that such a report was not a diagnosis. See Recommended Ruling 15 (“[T]he physician note indicates that [Quiles] reports a history of Fibromyalgia. (R. 127). This is not a definitive diagnosis. In fact, the diagnosis from Plaintiff's visit that day was ‘back pain.’”). That description is correct in observing that the note does not contain a “definitive diagnosis” of fibromyalgia, but the note does indicate that Quiles “present[ed] with history of . . . fibromyalgia, ” among other conditions, and it is not clear whether that history is, as Judge Garfinkel suggested, merely self-reported. Quiles moreover cites numerous other medical records that refer to fibromyalgia, at least one of which lists it expressly as a diagnosis and includes a treatment plan. See R. 703-04.

Regardless of Judge Garfinkel’s characterization of the note, however, and regardless of any earlier diagnosis of fibromyalgia, Quiles’s argument does not undermine the findings of the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) that the condition was “non-severe” and that she was not disabled as of October 22, 2012. See R 75, 84-85. “The mere diagnosis of an impairment ‘says nothing about the severity of the condition.’” Burrows v. Barnhart, No. 3:03-cv-342 (CFD)(TPS), 2007 WL 708627, at *6 (D. Conn. Feb. 20, 2007) (quoting Higgs v. Bowen, 880 F.2d 860, 863 (6th Cir. 1988)). Whether I adopt or reject the particular passage of the Recommended Ruling that characterizes the note is therefore immaterial. Moreover, Quiles did not challenge the finding that the condition was not severe before Judge Garfinkel, and any such challenge is therefore waived. Burden v. Astrue, 588 F.Supp.2d 269, 279 (D. Conn. 2008) (“Issues not raised before the Magistrate Judge, and therefore not addressed by her, may not properly be deemed ...


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