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Bainbridge v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

July 10, 2017

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



         Before the Court is Plaintiff Kevin Allen Bainbridge's Complaint seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). (ECF No. 2.) By standing order filed in this case on January 14, 2016, this action was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Omar J. Aboulhosn for submission of proposed findings and recommendations for disposition (the “PF&R”). (ECF No. 4.) On February 17, 2017, the Magistrate Judge entered his PF&R, which recommends that this Court deny Plaintiff's request for judgment on the pleadings, grant the Commissioner's request for judgment on the pleadings, affirm the Commissioner's decision, and dismiss this case. Plaintiff filed timely objections to the PF&R on March 6, 2017 (the “Objections”).

         For the reasons that follow, the Court OVERRULES the Objections, (ECF No. 22), ADOPTS the PF&R, (ECF No. 21), DENIES Plaintiff's request for judgment on the pleadings, (ECF No. 16), GRANTS the Commissioner's request for judgment on the pleadings, (ECF No. 19), AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner, and DISMISSES this action.


         The facts concerning this matter are fully set forth in the PF&R and need not be repeated here at length. In short, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for supplemental security income on September 7, 2012, alleging disability as of July 31, 2007, [1] (ECF No. 14-7 at 9), due to post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), back pain, and bipolar disorder, (ECF No. 14-8 at 29). The application was denied initially on January 22, 2013, (ECF No. 14-5 at 7), and upon reconsideration on April 19, 2013, (id. at 17).

         Administrative Law Judge John T. Molleur (the “ALJ”) held a hearing on August 26, 2014. On September 11, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (ECF No. 14-3.) The ALJ found at step one of the “sequential evaluation” process that Plaintiff “has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 7, 2012, the application date.” (Id. at 12.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has several severe impairments, specifically: sciatica, osteoarthritis of the right hand, cognitive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder/post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and alcohol dependence in remission. (Id. at 12.) At step three of the analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id. at 13.) The ALJ next found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c), reduced by certain limitations. (Id. at 14-18.) Finally, the ALJ found at step four that while Plaintiff is incapable of performing past relevant work, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Id. at 18.)

         The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on November 30, 2015. (ECF No. 14-2 at 2-5.) Thereafter, on January 12, 2016, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court.


         A. Review of the PF&R

         The Court is not required to review, under a de novo or any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as to those portions of the findings or recommendations to which no objections are addressed. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985). In addition, this Court need not conduct a de novo review when a party “makes general and conclusory objections that do not direct the Court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982).

         B. Review of the ALJ's Findings and Decision

         Judicial review of a final decision regarding disability benefits is limited to determining whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”); Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987) (“A factual finding by the ALJ is not binding if it was reached by means of an improper standard or misapplication of the law.”). Substantial evidence requires more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance, of the evidence. Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). “It means 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). “In reviewing for substantial evidence, [the court should] not undertake to reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the Secretary.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). If “conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, ” the Court must defer to the Commissioner's decision. Id. (citing Walker v. Bowen, 834 F.2d 635, 640 (7th Cir. 1987)).

         Plaintiff bears the burden of proving to the Commissioner that he is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5); English v. Shalala, 10 F.3d 1080, 1082 (4th Cir. 1993). “The term ‘disability' means . . . inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         The Commissioner uses a five-step “sequential evaluation” process to evaluate a disability claim. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) & 416.920(a)(4). In Hall v. Harris, the Fourth Circuit provided the following ...

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