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Lowther v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia, Martinsburg

June 28, 2017

AMBER DAWN LOWTHER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER of SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER ADOPTING IN PART REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          GINA M. GROH CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On this day, the above-styled matter came before the Court for consideration of a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) entered by United States Magistrate Judge Robert W. Trumble. In the R&R, Magistrate Judge Trumble recommends the Court grant the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 16] because substantial evidence supports the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) denial of the Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Magistrate Judge Trumble recommends the Court deny the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 12] and that this case be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. Background

         On August 13, 2012, [1] the Plaintiff protectively filed her application, alleging disability that began on June 12, 2012. The Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on March 20, 2013, and again upon reconsideration on June 18, 2013. On June 30, 2013, the Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing, which was held before an Administrative Law Judge on December 8, 2014. Plaintiff, represented by counsel, Brian D. Bailey, Esq., appeared and testified, as did a vocational expert. On January 22, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision to Plaintiff, finding that she was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. On June 30, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff‘s request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         On July 26, 2016, Amber Lowther (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint against the Commissioner of Social Security. The Plaintiff filed her motion for summary judgment on October 28, 2016. ECF No. 12. The Commissioner filed her motion for summary judgement on December 20, 2016. ECF No. 16. Magistrate Judge Trumble then entered an R&R on April 7, 2017. ECF No. 22. The Plaintiff filed objections to Magistrate Judge Trumble's R&R on April 20, 2017. ECF No. 23. The Commissioner filed a response on April 25, 2017. ECF No. 24.

         II. Standards of Review

         A. Review of the R&R

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), this Court must review de novo those portions of the magistrate judge's findings to which a party objects. However, failure to file objections permits the district court to review the R&R under the standards that the district court believes are appropriate, and if parties do not object to an issue, the parties' right to de novo review is waived as to that issue. See Webb v. Califano, 468 F.Supp. 825 (E.D. Cal. 1979). Therefore, this Court will conduct a de novo review only as to those portions of the R&R to which any party objects and will review the remaining portions of the R&R for clear error.

         B. Review of the ALJ Decision

         The Social Security Act limits this Court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner to: (1) whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971), and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). The phrase “supported by substantial evidence” means “more than a mere scintilla” and “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” See Perales, 402 U.S. at 401 (citing Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).

         A reviewing court must not re-weigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, so long as that decision is supported by substantial evidence. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456. Ultimately, it is the duty of the ALJ reviewing a case, not the responsibility of the Court, to make findings of fact and to resolve conflicts in the evidence. King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th Cir. 1979) (“This Court does not find facts or try the case de novo when reviewing disability determinations.”); see also Seacrist v. Weinberger, 538 F.2d 1054, 1056-57 (4th Cir. 1976) (“We note that it is the responsibility of the [Commissioner] and not the courts to reconcile inconsistencies in the medical evidence, and that it is the claimant who bears the risk of nonpersuasion.”).

         C. Evaluation Process

         To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ conducts a five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). If the ALJ finds the claimant is disabled or not disabled at a certain step, the ALJ does not proceed to the next step. Id.

         At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. The ALJ then determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment at step two. Next, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a listed impairment (20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1) and conducts a Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) assessment. At step four, the ALJ considers the RFC assessment to determine whether the claimant can perform past relevant work. Finally, during step five the ALJ Considers the RFC assessment, age, education, and work experience to determine whether the claimant can ...


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