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Barker v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. California

September 9, 2019

COREY BARKER, Plaintiff,


          Hon. Larry Alan Burns Chief United States District Judge

         After an administrative law judge (the “ALJ”) denied his application for social security disability benefits, Plaintiff Corey Barker brought this appeal. The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Karen Crawford for a report and recommendation. The parties filed motions for summary judgment, and Judge Crawford issued her report and recommendation (the “R&R”) on June 28, 2019. Barker filed written objections, and the Defendant filed a reply. Barker was represented by counsel both before the ALJ and in this Court.

         A district court has jurisdiction to review a Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation on dispositive matters. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). “The district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” Id. Section 636(b)(1) similarly requires that a district judge “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.” Id.

         This section does not require some lesser review by the district court when no objections are filed. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149-50 (1985). The “statute makes it clear that the district judge must review the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations de novo if objection is made, but not otherwise.” United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc) (emphasis in original).


          The Court has reviewed the entire R&R, which is substantial. The R&R correctly sets forth the legal standards for reviewing an administrative law judge's decision. The Court does not repeat those here, except as necessary for discussion. The R&R also includes a lengthy discussion of the record, most of which neither party objects to. It ultimately recommends denying Barker's motion for summary judgment and granting Defendant's cross-motion, and affirming the ALJ's decision. Barker filed limited but specific objections, arguing that the Court should reject the entire R&R and remand the matter for further administrative proceedings.

         Most of the R&R appears to be non-objectionable, and neither party objected to most of its findings and discussion. To the extent neither party has objected to the R&R, the Court accepts it as correct, and ADOPTS it. See § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). The following very limited factual background is taken from that portion of the R&R.

         Factual Background

         Barker was born in 1959 and has worked in the furniture, home improvement, and construction industries, and as a short-order cook. He said he had not worked since his disability onset date of March 23, 2014, and filed his application for disability insurance benefits on July 21, 2014. He claimed that his ability to work was limited by his back pain and anxiety. His claim was denied at the initial and reconsideration stages, and he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge.

         After the onset date, however, Barker collected unemployment benefits as late as the first quarter of 2015. As part of the process of applying for unemployment benefits, he was required to certify that he was able to work and looking for employment. Barker also worked part-time for a florist after the claimed disability onset date, but stopped on September 27, 2016. He reported to the ALJ that he was still looking for work.

         The relevant medical discussion begins with Barker's visit to Dr. Ede in August and September of 2013, for a psychiatric evaluation. At that time, he did not appear to be in physical distress. Dr. Ede diagnosed him with panic disorder, and prescribed medications.

         The first discussed medical visit after the claimed onset date was to Dr. William Bailey, for lower back pain. Dr. Bailey noted that Barker appeared to be in pain and walking with difficulty. Dr. Bailey diagnosed him with a lumbar sprain and strain, and prescribed treatment.

         Barker saw a psychiatrist, Dr. Shahla Ramin, on September 30, 2014, who relied only on Barker's self-report and his own observations during the visit. Dr. Ramin's impression was that Barker was suffering from adjustment disorder with depressed mood, as well as psychological and environmental problems. He found no real limits on Barker's mental or social abilities, and noted that he was able to complete both simple and detailed tasks, and the activities of daily living.

         Barker saw Dr. Moyad, an orthopedic surgeon, on October 1, 2014 for an evaluation of his back problems. After an examination, Dr. Moyad diagnosed Barker with (1) lumbar spondylosis and L4-5 Spondylosis with Stenosis; (2) mild left leg radiculopathy; (3) right thoracic back rhomboid chronic strain; and (4) left shoulder sub-acromial impingement/Bursitis. He also completed a functional assessment. In his opinion, Barker in an 8-hour workday with normal breaks could be expected to sit for up six hours and stand or walk for up to six hours. He opined that Barker could lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds ...

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