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Pollander v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

April 6, 2015

FREIDA POLLANDER, Claimant,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.

ORDER

DAVID C. NORTON, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on a motion to amend the court's March 12, 2014 judgment, which affirmed the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's ("the Commissioner") decision. Claimant Freida Pollander ("Pollander") contends that the court's judgment should be amended pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because the court made a clear error of law. The Commissioner has filed a response in opposition to Pollander's motion. For the reasons set forth below, the court denies Pollander's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Pollander filed an application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on June 1, 2005, alleging that she became unable to work on March 24, 2004. Tr. 17. The Social Security Administration ("the Agency") denied her application initially and on reconsideration. After a hearing held on September 26, 2008, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") determined that Pollander was not disabled. The ALJ's finding became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied further review. Pollander appealed to this court and the Hon. Joseph F. Anderson, Jr. reversed the Commissioner's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings on March 22, 2011. Tr. 699.

On remand, ALJ Gregory M. Wilson held a hearing on January 31, 2012. Tr. 1115. Pollander testified at the hearing, as did vocational expert ("VE") Carroll Crawford. Id . In an opinion issued on February 10, 2012, the ALJ again determined that Pollander was not disabled. The ALJ's opinion became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on May 17, 2012. It is this decision that is the subject of Pollander's present lawsuit.

Pollander filed this action for judicial review on July 16, 2012. On February 21, 2013, she filed a brief seeking remand for further proceedings. The Commissioner responded to Pollander's brief on April 22, 2013. On February 6, 2014, the magistrate judge issued the R&R, recommending that the Commissioner's decision be overturned and the case be remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g). In the R&R, the magistrate judge found that the ALJ committed two errors: (i) the ALJ failed to elicit an explanation for the conflicts between the VE's testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT"); and (ii) the ALJ failed to perform the function-by-function analysis required by SSR 96-8p by failing to address whether Pollander has any limitations on her ability to reach. Id . The Commissioner objected to the magistrate judge's second finding only, explaining that if the ALJ did, in fact, properly assess Pollander's ability to reach, then any other error by the ALJ would have been harmless. Comm'r's Objections 5.

On March 12, 2014, after reviewing the Commissioner's objection to the R&R, the court adopted the magistrate judge's R&R in part, and affirmed the Commissioner's decision. The court held that although the ALJ failed to resolve certain conflicts between the DOT and the VE's testimony, "such error was harmless because the ALJ properly found that Pollander could perform medium unskilled work as an order filler." Order 8. The court further held that "[t]hough the position of order filler requires frequent reaching, the ALJ's extensive opinion shows that he considered-and rejected-the need for any limitations on Pollander's ability to reach." Id.

On April 9, 2014, Pollander filed the instant motion to amend the court's judgment. The Commissioner opposed the motion on April 25, 2014, to which Pollander filed a reply on March 2, 2014. The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for the court's review.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) governs motions to alter or amend a judgment. Though the rule does not provide a standard under which a district court may grant such motions, the Fourth Circuit has recognized "three grounds for amending an earlier judgment: (1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998) (citing EEOC v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 116 F.3d 110, 112 (4th Cir. 1997); Hutchinson v. Staton, 994 F.2d 1076, 1081 (4th Cir. 1993)). Rule 59(e) provides an "extraordinary remedy that should be used sparingly." Pac. Ins. Co., 148 F.3d at 403 (internal citation omitted); Wright v. Conley, No. 10-cv-2444, 2013 WL 314749, at *1 (D.S.C. Jan. 28, 2013). "Whether to alter or amend a judgment under Rule 59(e) is within the sound discretion of the district court." Singletary v. Beazley Ins. Co., No. 2:13-cv-1142, 2013 WL 6850147, at *2 (D.S.C. Dec. 30, 2013) (citing Bogart v. Chapell, 396 F.3d 548, 555 (4th Cir.2005)), aff'd, 585 F.Appx. 177 (4th Cir. 2014).

Rule 59(e) motions "may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment." Pac. Ins. Co., 148 F.3d at 403 (citation and internal quotations omitted). Nor are Rule 59(e) motions opportunities to rehash issues already ruled upon because a litigant is displeased with the result. Tran v. Tran, 166 F.Supp.2d 793, 798 (S.D.N.Y. 2001); see also United States ex rel. Becker v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 305 F.3d 284, 290 (4th Cir. 2002) ("Mere disagreement does not support a Rule 59(e) motion.").

III. DISCUSSION

In the instant motion, Pollander does not argue there has been an intervening change in controlling law nor does she present new evidence; therefore, the only questions are whether the court's order was based on a clear error of law or would result in a manifest injustice. Pac. Ins. Co., 148 F.3d at 403. Pollander essentially raises two bases upon which the court should reconsider its previous order: (1) the court erred in issuing an order before the established deadline to reply to the Commissioner's objections had expired; and (2) the court committed a clear error of law by determining ...


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