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Shuman v. Berryhill

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

August 14, 2017

ROGER SHUMAN, Plaintiff,
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. 19] of United States Magistrate Judge Michael J. Aloi. Magistrate Judge Aloi issued his R&R on May 24, 2017, recommending that this Court grant the Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, deny the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment, vacate the decision of the Administrative Law Judge and remand for reconsideration. For the following reasons, the Court declines to adopt the recommendation.

         I. Background

         On February 23, 2012, the Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, and on February 29, 2012, he filed an application under Title XVI for supplemental security income. In both applications, the Plaintiff alleged disability beginning on April 1, 2004. The Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on September 10, 2012, and again upon reconsideration on March 11, 2013. At the Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on September 15, 2014. Following the hearing, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has not definitively engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 1, 2004, and that he suffers from the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis of the bilateral knees and degenerative arthritis of the lumbar spine. 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 he is unable to perform past relevant work, but nevertheless is able to perform work in positions that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Consequently, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision, finding the Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. On March 7, 2016, the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review.

         On May 11, 2016, the Plaintiff filed his complaint with this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision. On September 29, 2016, the Plaintiff filed his motion for summary judgment and thereafter, on November 28, 2016, the Commissioner filed her motion for summary judgment. On May 24, 2017, upon reviewing the pleadings and relevant materials in this case, Magistrate Judge Aloi entered his R&R, recommending that the Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be granted, the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment be denied and the case remanded for review of new evidence. When the Commissioner filed her objections to the R&R on June 7, 2017, this case became 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 timely objections are made. See Snyder v. Ridenour, 889 F.2d 1363, 1366 (4th Cir. 1989); United States v. Schronce, 727 F.2d 91, 93-94 (4th Cir. 1984). In this case, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C) and Magistrate Judge Aloi's R&R, objections were due within fourteen days after being served with a copy of the same. The Commissioner timely filed objections on June 7, 2017. Accordingly, the Court will review de novo the portions of the R&R to which the Commissioner 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 the Commissioner's final decision to whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390-402 (1971), and whether the correct legal standards were applied, 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). It is critical that the reviewing court not reweigh 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, for 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 evaluation 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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