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Delgado v. Bowen

*fn*: January 15, 1986.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 83 C 5111-Thomas R. McMillen, Judge.

Before COFFEY, EASTERBROOK, and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

Per Curiam.

This is an appeal from an order of the district court affirming the decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) to deny plaintiff's application for disability benefits. We affirm.


On June 18, 1982, plaintiff, Mrs. Josefa Delgado, then sixty years old, applied for disability benefits, alleging that she has been disabled since January 1, 1982. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Mrs. Delgado was represented by an attorney as she has been throughout this litigation. The ALJ issued a written decision denying the application on the ground that Mrs. Delgado could still perform her past relevant work. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). The Appeals Council denied review of that decision,*fn1 and, therefore, it is the final decision of the Secretary.

Mrs. Delgado next filed suit in federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the Secretary's decision. Subsequently, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment and the district judge referred the motion to a magistrate. The magistrate, finding a lack of substantial evidence to support the Secretary's determination that Mrs. Delgado could return to her past relevant work, recommended that the case be remanded tot he Secretary for a vocational assessment. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566(e). Plaintiff timely field an objection to the magistrate's recommendation nor a response to plaintiff's objection. The district judge reviewed the entire record de novo and found that plaintiff was not disabled. The court chose not to follow the recommendation of the magistrate and instead granted the Secretary's motion for summary judgment thereby affirming the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff filed a timely appeal with this court. See Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1).

On appeal, plaintiff raises two issues. First, plaintiff argues that the district judge acted improperly by making a de novo determination of the entire case instead of limiting himself to those portions of the magistrate's recommendations to which plaintiff objected. Second, plaintiff argues that the decision of the ALJ was not supported by substantial evidence and, therefore, this court should remand the case to the Secretary. For the reasons given below, we hold that no remand is necessary because the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence.



Initially, plaintiff argues that he district judge's de novo determination exceeded the standard set by 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Section 636(b)(1)(B) permits a district judge to designate a magistrate to conduct hearings and propose findings of facts and recommendations for the disposition of various motions and petitions including, as in this case, motions for summary judgment. Section 636(b)(1)(C) further provides that:

A Judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. A judge or the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole, or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate.

Plaintiff apparently argues that he second sentence of the quoted passage has not effect independent of the first sentence; that is, the district judge can only accept, reject, or modify the objected-to findings or recommendations. Under plaintiff's interpretation of the state, a district judge must automatically accept the magistrate's proposed disposition if neither party makes an objection.*fn2

We believe that the plaintiff's interpretation is wrong. Any ambiguity in the statutory language is certainly laid to rest by the legislative history and the case law. The passage under discussion was added to the Federal Magistrates Act by the 1976 amendments to that Act. A sentence similar to the first one was in the bill originally introduced in the Senate, but when it was reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee, that sentence had been deleted from the proposed amendments. The House, however, added the present first sentence to make clear that a de novo determination was mandatory when objections were made. Thus, the statute should be read as permitting modifications and de novo determinations by the district judge at all times but mandating de novo determinations when objections are raised. See H.R. Rep. No. 94-1609, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 2-3 (1976), reprinted in 1976 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News 6162-63. See also United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 674-76, 65 L. Ed. 2d 424, 100 S. Ct. 2406 (1980) (discussing the legislative history). The House also clearly stated that, under the statute, the judge always retains the power to make the final decision. "The judge is given the widest discretion to 'accept, reject or modify' the findings and recommendations proposed by the magistrate . . . [T]he ultimate adjudicatory power over dispositive motions . . . is exercised by a judge of the court after receiving assistance from and the recommendation of the magistrate." H.R. Rep. No. 94-1609 at 11, reprinted in 1976 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News at 6171. See Raddatz, 447 U.S. at 676.

Case law has emphasized that under the Federal Magistrates Act the judge always retains authority to make the final determination. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 88 L. Ed. 2d 435, 106 S. Ct. 466, 54 U.S.L.W. 4032, 4036 (U.S. December 4, 1985); Raddatz, 447 U.S. at 682, quoting Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 271, 46 L. Ed. 2d 483, 96 S. Ct. 549 (1976); Taylor v. Oxford, 575 F.2d 152, 154 (7th Cir. 1978). Since the judge retains final authority, he "may freely reject the magistrate's recommendation," Raddatz, 447 U.S. at 685 (Blackmun, J., concurring), and, even when no objection was made, he may make a de novo ...

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