United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
E. JOHNSTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is a Complaint seeking review of the final decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”). (ECF No. 2.) Plaintiff Robert
Huffman prosecutes this action on behalf of his wife, Karen
Beth Huffman (hereinafter “Claimant”). Plaintiff
was substituted as a party following Claimant's death on
March 24, 2016.
standing order filed in this case on March 17, 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 December 14, 2016, the magistrate judge
entered his PF&R, recommending 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
January 3, 2017 (the “Objections”).
reasons that follow, the Court OVERRULES the Objections, (ECF
No. 26), ADOPTS the PF&R, (ECF No. 25), DENIES
Plaintiff's request for judgment on the pleadings, (ECF
No. 20), GRANTS the Commissioner's request for judgment
on the pleadings, (ECF No. 23), AFFIRMS the decision of the
Commissioner, and DISMISSES this action.
facts concerning this matter are fully set forth in the
PF&R and need not be repeated here at length. In short,
Claimant filed an application for disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) on June 25, 2012, alleging disability as
of November 1, 2008,  due to diabetes, neuropathy, high blood
pressure and cholesterol, heart problems, and arterial
disease. (Tr. 56.) Claimant would later complain of mental
impairments, including problems with memory and
concentration. (See Id. at 240.) For purposes of her
DIB application, Claimant's date last insured
(“DLI”) was June 30, 2012. (Id. at 11.)
The applications were denied initially on October 26, 2012.
Upon reconsideration, Claimant's SSI claim was allowed
with a later onset date of December 5, 2012. The DIB claim
was denied upon reconsideration. (Id. at 132-34.)
Law Judge Sabrina M. Tilley (the “ALJ”) held a
hearing on July 30, 2014. On October 29, 2014, the ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 11-21.) The ALJ found at step
one of the “sequential evaluation” process that
Claimant “has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since August 11, 2011, the amended alleged onset
date.” (Id. at 13.) At step two, the ALJ found
that Claimant had several severe impairments, specifically:
degenerative disc disease, calcaneal spurs, diabetes
mellitus, peripheral neuropathy, and coronary artery disease.
(Id.) At step three of the analysis, the ALJ found
that Claimant did 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 14.) The ALJ next found that
Claimant had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform less than the full range of
light work as defined in 20 CFR § 416.967(b), reduced by
certain exertional limitations. (Id. at 15- 19.)
Finally, the ALJ found at step four that while Claimant was
incapable of performing past relevant work, there were a
significant number of jobs existing in the national economy
that Claimant could perform. (Id. at 20.)
Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on
January 2, 2016. (Tr. 1-6.) On March 17, 2016, Claimant filed
the Complaint in this Court.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Review of the PF&R
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).
Review of the ALJ's Findings and Decision
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)).
claimant bears the burden of proving to the Commissioner that
she 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).
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 description of the “sequential
Under the process the ALJ must determine in sequence: (1)
whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) if not, whether he has a severe
impairment; (3) if so, whether that impairment meets or
equals the medical criteria of Appendix 1 which warrants a
finding of disability without considering vocational factors;
and (4) if not, whether the impairment prevents him from
performing his past relevant work. By satisfying either step
3 or 4, the claimant establishes a prima facie case of
disability. The burden then shifts to the Secretary and leads
to the fifth and final inquiry in the sequence: whether the
claimant is able to perform other work considering both his
remaining physical and mental capacities (defined as residual
functional capacity) and his vocational capabilities (age,
education, and past work experience) to adjust to a new job.
658 F.2d 260, 264-65 (4th Cir. 1981); see also 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 & 416.920 (providing the
“sequential evaluation” analysis). The claimant
bears the burden of proof at steps one through four, but the
burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. See Bowen
v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); Pass v.
Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). If a
decision regarding disability can be made at any step of the