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Turner v. Berryhill

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

June 28, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         On this day, the above-styled matter came before the Court for consideration of the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) [ECF No. 37] of United States Magistrate Judge James E. Seibert. Magistrate Judge Seibert issued his R&R on March 28, 2017, recommending that this Court deny the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 32] and grant the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 35]. For the following reasons, Magistrate Judge Seibert's R&R is hereby ADOPTED IN PART.

         I. Background

         On January 3, 2014, the Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits alleging disability beginning on August 9, 2013. The Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on March 31, 2014, and again on May 9, 2014. At the Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on August 25, 2015. Following the hearing, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: (1) cervical spine degenerative disc disease, (2) lumbar spine degenerative disc disease with radiculopathy and (3) obesity. The ALJ determined that, although the Plaintiff suffers from various severe impairments and mild mental limitations, none-either on their own or in combination with one another-meet or equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Upon calculating the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff is able to perform past relevant work as a procurement clerk-a position that does not require the performance of work-related activities that are precluded by the Plaintiff's RFC. In addition, the ALJ found additional jobs, which exist in significant numbers in the national economy, that the Plaintiff is able to perform. Accordingly, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision, finding the Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. On December 16, 2015, the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review.

         On February 12, 2016, the Plaintiff filed her complaint with this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision. On February 6, 2017, the Plaintiff filed her motion for summary judgment. Thereafter, on February 24, 2017, the Commissioner filed her motion for summary judgment. On April 12, 2017, upon reviewing the pleadings and relevant materials in this case, United States Magistrate Judge James E. Seibert entered his R&R, recommending that the Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be denied and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment be granted. The Plaintiff filed objections to the R&R on April 14, 2017. This case is now ripe for consideration.

         II. Standards of Review

         A. Review of the R&R

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), this Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the magistrate judge's findings to which the Plaintiff objects. However, failure to file timely objections constitutes a waiver of de novo review. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Snyder v. Ridenour, 889 F.2d 1363, 1366 (4th Cir. 1989); United States v. Schronce, 727 F.2d 91, 94 (4th Cir. 1984). In this case, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C) and Magistrate Judge Seibert's R&R, objections were due within fourteen days after being served with a copy of the same. The Plaintiff timely filed objections on April 14, 2017.[1] Accordingly, the Court will review de novo the portions of the R&R to which the Plaintiff objects and the remainder 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 of the Social Security Administration to (1) whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390-402 (1971), and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). “Substantial evidence” means “more than a mere scintilla” and “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). A reviewing court must not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, so long as the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456. It is the duty of the ALJ-not the reviewing court-to make findings of fact and 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.”).

         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 that the claimant is disabled or not disabled at a certain step, a determination is made and the ALJ does not proceed to the next step. Id. The steps are as follows:

Step One: Determine whether the claimant is engaging in substantial ...

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