United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REJECTING REPORT AND
RECOMMENDATION [DKT. NO. 14], REVERSING THE
COMMISSIONER'S DECISION UNDER SENTENCE FOUR OF 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(G) AND § 1383(C)(3), AND REMANDING THE CASE
TO THE COMMISSIONER
M. KEELEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
February 24, 2016, the plaintiff, Karen Sue Reynolds
(“Reynolds”), filed a complaint seeking review of
the adverse decision of the defendant, Nancy A. Berryhill,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the
Commissioner”) (Dkt. No. 1). On January 25, 2017, the
Honorable Michael J. Aloi, United States Magistrate Judge,
issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”),
recommending that the Court deny Reynolds's motion for
judgment on the pleadings, grant the Commissioner's
motion for summary judgment, affirm the Commissioner's
decision, and dismiss this case with prejudice (Dkt. No. 14).
Reynolds filed timely objections to the R&R (Dkt. No.
considering the record, as well as Reynolds's objections,
the Court REJECTS the R&R (Dkt. No. 14), GRANTS
Reynolds's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No.
9), DENIES the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment
(Dkt. No. 11), REVERSES the Commissioner's decision under
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and §
1383(c)(3), and REMANDS Reynolds's treating physician and
credibility claims to the ALJ for further proceedings.
Court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). As part of its
review of the R&R, the Court incorporates by reference
Magistrate Judge Aloi's thorough recitation of the facts
surrounding Reynolds's disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) claims, as well as his articulation of
the Commissioner's five-step evaluation process (Dkt. No.
14 at 2-23).
was born on February 18, 1963, and was 49 years old at the
time she filed her DIB and SSI claims on June 6 and June 18,
2012, respectively (Dkt. No. 7-5 at 15). She initially
alleged a disability onset date of March 1, 2009, but later
amended that date to April 1, 2011. Id. at 17. At
the time, she was unemployed, but had previously worked as an
assistant manager at Family Dollar. She had also worked as a
cashier at a convenience store, a cook, a nursing home aide,
and a hotel front desk clerk (Dkt. No. 7-6 at 4). Reynolds
alleged that a number of limitations prevented her from
working, including congestive heart failure, rheumatoid
arthritis, knots in her arms and legs, and depression.
Id. at 3.Reynolds also indicated a history of
sometimes passing out and going into convulsions (Dkt. No.
7-6 at 9).
Commissioner denied Reynolds's claims at both the initial
and reconsideration levels (Dkt. No. 1 at 1). Upon
Reynolds's request, Administrative Law Judge Brian W.
Wood (“ALJ”) held a hearing on April 1, 2014,
following which he denied Reynolds's claim (Dkt. No. 7-2
at 18, 32). Reynolds appealed the ALJ's decision to the
Appeals Council, which declined review on January 5, 2016
(Dkt. Nos. 1 at 1; 7-2 at 2).
on February 24, 2016, Reynolds filed suit in this Court,
seeking reversal of the Commissioner's final decision
(Dkt. No. 1 at 1). In her complaint, Reynolds argued that the
Commissioner committed reversible error by (1) failing to
comply with 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527 and 416.927 when
he assigned “little weight” to the medical
opinion of her treating physician Stephen Thompson, D.O.
(“Dr. Thompson”), and (2) making a deficient
credibility determination, which rendered his decision
unsupported by substantial evidence (Dkt. No. 10 at 14, 18).
R&R, Magistrate Judge Aloi rejected Reynolds's
contentions (Dkt. No. 14). First, he found substantial
evidence to support the ALJ's decision to afford little
weight to Dr. Thompson's opinion, and also found that the
ALJ had sufficiently explained his decision so as to permit
meaningful review. Id. at 34. Second, he found that
the ALJ had properly assessed Reynolds's credibility, and
had supported his determination with substantial evidence.
Id. at 34-37.
filed timely objections to the R&R, in which she argued
that Magistrate Judge Aloi improperly supplied a post
hoc rationalization for the ALJ's rejection of Dr.
Thompson's opinion (Dkt. No. 15 at 2-4). In addition, she
argued that the magistrate judge's conclusion that the
ALJ's credibility determination was valid was erroneous.
(Dkt. No. 15 at 4-5).
STANDARDS OF REVIEW
Magistrate Judge's R&R
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c), this Court must review
de novo any portion of the magistrate judge's
recommendation to which objection is timely made. The Court,
however, will uphold those portions of the R&R to which
no objection is made unless they are “clearly
erroneous.” See Diamond v. Colonial Life &
Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).
Because Reynolds filed objections to the R&R (Dkt. No.
15), this Court will review de novo all those
portions of the R&R to which she has objected.
question presented is not whether Reynolds is disabled.
See Mayer v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 700, 704 (4th Cir.
2011) (citing Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th
Cir. 1996)). Judicial review of a final decision regarding
disability benefits is limited to determining whether the
ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, and
whether the ALJ correctly applied the law. See 42
U.S.C. § 405(g); Milburn Colliery Co. v. Hicks,
138 F.3d 524, 528 (4th Cir. 1998). It is the duty of the ALJ,
not the Court, to make findings of fact and resolve disputed
evidence. King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th
evidence is that which a “reasonable mind might accept
as adequate to support a conclusion.” Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)
(internal quotation omitted)). That “two inconsistent
conclusions” may be drawn “from the evidence does
not prevent an administrative agency's findings from
being supported by substantial evidence.” Sec'y
of Labor v. Mut. Mining, Inc., 80 F.3d 110, 113 (4th
Cir. 1996) (quoting Conolo v. Fed. Mar. Comm'n,
383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966) (internal quotation omitted)).
ALJ may not select and discuss only that evidence that favors
his ultimate conclusion, but must articulate, at some minimum
level, his analysis of the evidence to allow the appellate
court to trace the path of his reasoning. An ALJ's
failure to consider an entire line of evidence falls below
the minimal level . . . .” Diaz v. Chater, 55
F.3d 300, 307 (7th Cir. 1995) (internal citation omitted).
The Court must be able to “track the ALJ's
reasoning and be assured that the ALJ considered the
important evidence.” Id. at 308 (quoting
Green v. Shalala, 51 F.3d 96, 101 (7th Cir. 1995)).
contends that the Court must remand this case because the ALJ
failed to conduct a proper analysis or provide “good
reasons” for discounting the medical opinion of Dr.
Thompson, her treating physician (Dkt. No. 10 at 10-14). In
his R&R, Magistrate Judge Aloi concluded that the
ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence,
especially evidence from the “particular
category” on which he relied (Dkt. No. 14 at 29).
Moreover, he concluded that the ALJ's explanation was
sufficient to permit the Court to conduct a meaningful
review. Id. at 34.
contends the magistrate judge improperly “searched the
administrative record and found other evidence which he
(deems substantial) and which (he determines) supported the
ALJ's finding, even though the ALJ, himself, did not cite
that evidence in support of his decision” (Dkt. No. 15
at 2). She accuses both the Commissioner and the magistrate
judge of providing a post hoc rationale for the
ALJ's decision when, in fact, the duty to provide
sufficient reasoning rested with the ALJ. Id. at 3.
claimant's severe impairments neither meet nor equal the
severity of a listed impairment, as was the undisputed
step-three determination in this case, the ALJ must then
assess the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). The ALJ
determines the claimant's RFC “based on all the
relevant medical and other evidence, ” id.,
including medical opinions. Id. § 404.1527(b).
“Medical opinions are statements from acceptable
medical sources that reflect judgments about the nature and
severity” of a claimant's “impairment(s),
including [her] symptoms, diagnosis, or prognosis, what [she]
can still do despite impairment(s), and [her] physical or
mental restrictions. Id. § 404.1527(a)(1).
treating physician's opinion is entitled to controlling
weight so long as it is “well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques,
” and is consistent with the other evidence of record.
Id. § 404.1527(c)(2); Mastro v. Apfel,
270 F.3d 171, 178 (4th Cir. 2001). When a medical opinion is
not entitled to controlling weight, the ALJ should consider
the following factors in deciding what weight to assign: (1)
the examining relationship; (2) the length, frequency,
nature, and extent of the treatment relationship; (3)
supportability; (4) consistency; (5) specialization; and (6)
other factors. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c). ...