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Richards v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

February 23, 2017

RANDY LEE RICHARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING AND ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Background[1]

         In this case, the plaintiff, by counsel, seeks judicial review of the defendant's decision to deny his claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). The plaintiff applied for DIB on February 25, 2013, alleging disability beginning November 21, 2008. His claim was initially denied on May 24, 2013, and again upon reconsideration on July 2, 2013. The plaintiff then filed a written request for a hearing. On June 25, 2014, the plaintiff filed for SSI benefits, and that claim was escalated to the hearing level. The Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”) held a video hearing on July 18, 2014. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision to the plaintiff, and the plaintiff appealed. The appeals council denied the plaintiff's request for review, and the plaintiff timely brought his claim before this Court. The plaintiff alleges he is unable to work due to (1) depression, (2) high blood pressure, (3) arthritis, (4) left ankle impairments, (5) high cholesterol, (6) acid reflux, and (7) a thyroid impairment.

         To determine whether the plaintiff was disabled, the ALJ used a five-step evaluation process pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. Using that process, the ALJ made the following findings: (1) the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 21, 2008, the date of the alleged onset of the plaintiff's disability; (2) the plaintiff had the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis of the left ankle, gastroesophageal reflux disease, hypothyroidism, obesity, major depressive disorder, and personality disorder; (3) none of the plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled the severity of any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) the plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work; and (5) “[c]onsidering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform.” ECF No. 7-2 at 39. Therefore, the ALJ found that the plaintiff did not have a disability as defined under the Social Security Act.

         The plaintiff and the defendant both filed motions for summary judgment. The plaintiff argues that the ALJ (1) improperly assessed the plaintiff's credibility regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms and (2) failed to adequately explain his residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination. The defendant argues that the ALJ properly assessed the plaintiff's credibility and that the credibility determination is supported by substantial evidence. The defendant also argues that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's RFC determination.

         The magistrate judge entered his report and recommendation on November 21, 2016. The magistrate judge recommends that this Court deny the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, grant the defendant's motion for summary judgment, and dismiss with prejudice this civil action.

         As to the plaintiff's first argument, the magistrate judge found that the plaintiff failed to meet his burden of showing that the ALJ's credibility determination was patently wrong. See Sencindiver v. Astrue, No. 3:08CV178, 2010 WL 446174, at *33 (N.D. W.Va. Feb. 3, 2010) (stating that, if the ALJ meet his basic duty of explanation, “an ALJ's credibility determination [will be reversed] only if the claimant can show it was ‘patently wrong'” (quoting Powers v. Apfel, 207 F.3d 431, 435 (7th Cir. 2000))). The magistrate judge found that the ALJ's discussion of the evidence in reaching his credibility determination was sufficiently specific to make clear his reasoning in finding that the plaintiff is not entirely credible.

         As to the plaintiff's second argument, the magistrate judge also found that the ALJ's RFC determination was supported by substantial evidence. The magistrate judge found that the ALJ properly identified the plaintiff's symptoms and limitations and then conducted the required function-by-function analysis, which was accompanied by a five-page narrative discussion of the evidence. The magistrate judge found that he was able to discern from the ALJ's discussion how the ALJ arrived at his conclusions and was not left guessing at the ALJ's reasoning.

         For those reasons, the magistrate judge found that substantial evidence supports the defendant's denial of the plaintiff's application for DIB and SSI. Thus, the magistrate judge determined that the defendant's motion for summary judgment should be granted, the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment should be denied, and that the civil action should be dismissed with prejudice. The parties did not file objections. For the reasons set forth below, the report and recommendation of the magistrate judge is affirmed and adopted.

         II. Applicable Law

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), this Court must conduct a de novo review of any portion of the magistrate judge's recommendation to which objection is timely made. As to those portions of a recommendation to which no objection is made, a magistrate judge's findings and recommendation will be upheld unless they are clearly erroneous.

         III. Discussion

         As the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has held, “Under the Social Security Act, [a reviewing court] must uphold the factual findings of the Secretary if they are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standard.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. A reviewing court “does not reweigh evidence or make credibility determinations in evaluating whether a decision is supported by substantial evidence; ‘[w]here conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ, ' we defer to the Commissioner's decision.” Thompson v. Astrue, 442 F. App'x 804, 805 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005)). Further, as the Supreme Court of the United States stated in United States v. United States Gypsum Co., “a finding is ‘clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” 333 U.S. 364, 395.

         After reviewing the record before this Court, no clearly erroneous findings exist concerning the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. As to the plaintiff's first argument in his motion for summary judgment, the magistrate judge correctly concluded that the plaintiff did not satisfy his burden of showing that the ALJ's credibility determination was patently wrong as required by Sencindiver. The magistrate judge notes that, when the ALJ meets his basic duty of explanation, “[a]n ALJ's credibility determinations are ‘virtually unreviewable' by this Court.” Ryan v. Astrue, No. 5:09CV55, 2011 WL 541125, at *3 (N.D. W.Va. Feb. 8, 2011). The magistrate judge also correctly notes that an ALJ need not document specific findings as to each credibility factor set out in Social Security Ruling 96-7p. See Wolfe v. Colvin, No. 3:14CV4, 2015 WL 401013, at *4 (N.D. W.Va. Jan. 28, 2015). In this case, and as the magistrate judge thoroughly documents in his report and recommendation, the ALJ's discussion of each credibility factor is sufficiently specific to make clear the ALJ's reasoning in finding the plaintiff not entirely credible. Because the plaintiff did not satisfy his burden of ...


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