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Carley v. Berryhill

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

September 8, 2017

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



         Plaintiff, Randall Carley, instituted this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) on October 15, 2015, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). By standing order, this action was referred to the Honorable Cheryl A. Eifert, United States Magistrate Judge, who filed her Proposed Findings and Recommendations (“PF&R”) on July 28, 2017. Proposed Findings & Recommendations, ECF No. 14. Judge Eifert recommends that this Court grant the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings, deny Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings, and dismiss this case with prejudice.

         Plaintiff filed objections to the PF&R on August 10, 2017, which the Court will assess under a de novo standard of review. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

         I. Background

         On June 19, 2013, Plaintiff brought his claim alleging disability due to multiple conditions. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application both initially and upon reconsideration. Decision of ALJ, ECF No. 8-2, at 1; Tr. of Oral Hr'g on June 5, 2015, ECF No. 8-3, at 3. After a hearing requested by Plaintiff, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. Decision of ALJ, at 4-14. In a written decision dated July 20, 2015, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffers from several severe impairments including, coronary artery disease, status post myocardial infarction and stent placement with high blood pressure, lumbar degenerative disc disease and degenerative join disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, borderline intellectual functioning (“BIF”)/ learning disorder, and affective disorder. Id. at 3-4. However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of those listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Additionally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retains “the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work” and that “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform.” Decision of ALJ, at 6-13. Based upon these findings, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for DIB.

         Plaintiff challenged the ALJ's decision, and contended that the ALJ improperly determined that his cognitive functioning did not meet or equal the standard for an intellectual disorder in Listing 12.05. The Appeals Council denied the request for review on September 21, 2016, rendering the ALJ decision final.

         The PF&R contains a thorough analysis of relevant information regarding Plaintiff's person, medical, and procedural history. Plaintiff maintains the same objections to the PF&R as he did to the ALJ's decision.

         II. Standard of Review

         This Court must “make a de novo determination of those portions of the . . . [Magistrate Judge's] proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The scope of this Court's review of the Commissioner's decision, however, is narrow: this Court must uphold the Commissioner's factual findings “if they are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standard.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (providing “findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive”) (other citation omitted)). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla” of evidence, but only such evidence “as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).

         In conducting this review, this Court also must address whether the ALJ analyzed all of the relevant evidence and sufficiently explained her rationale in crediting or discrediting certain evidence. See Milburn Colliery Co. v. Hicks, 138 F.3d 524, 528 (4th Cir. 1998); see, e.g., Murphy v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 433, 437 (4th Cir. 1987) (remanding claim for disability benefits because ALJ did not adequately explain why he credited one doctor's views over those of another). It is the ALJ's duty, however, not the courts, “to make findings of fact and to resolve conflicts in the evidence.” Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). If there is conflicting evidence and reasonable minds could differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, it is the Commissioner or his designate, the ALJ, who makes the decision. Craig, 76 F.3d at 589 (citation omitted). “The issue before [this Court], therefore, is not whether [Petitioner] is disabled, but whether the ALJ's finding that she is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence and was reached based upon a correct application of the relevant law.” Id. (citation omitted).

         Applying these standards, the Court has reviewed de novo those portions of the PF & R to which the Commissioner objected. For the reasons set forth below, the Court ADPOTS AND INCORPORATES HEREIN the PF & R of the Magistrate Judge, DENIES Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings, GRANTS the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings, and DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE this case from the docket.

         III. Discussion

         The PF&R provides a detailed and well-articulated reasoning for concluding that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence. Judge Eifert explained that, viewed as a whole, the ALJ's findings were based upon a complete examination of the record. Proposed Findings & Recommendations, at 15-27. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not demonstrate the necessary deficits to satisfy Listing 12.05. Decision of ALJ, at 6. In reaching his conclusion, the ALJ did not ignore contrary evidence. The ALJ recognized that the Plaintiff's records reflected some cognitive limitation. Proposed Findings & Recommendations, at 22; Decision of ALJ, at 6-7, 10-12. But, the evidence of Plaintiff's sufficient adaptive functioning led the ALJ to conclude that Plaintiff did not satisfy Listing 12.05. Decision of ALJ, at 6-7. Specifically, the ALJ based his conclusion upon evidence in the record that the Plaintiff “performs many activities of daily living including performing his own personal care . . ., performed well at manual labor jobs for many years . . ., [and] reported in 2013 that he could follow spoken instructions, count change, and manage money orders.” Id. at 6.

         Plaintiff contends that the weight of the evidentiary record supports a finding that he demonstrated the necessary deficits to satisfy Listing 12.05. Pl.'s Obj. to Proposed Findings and Recommendation, ECF No. 15, at 3. He argues that the ALJ relied upon “shallow [and] insignificant evidence to support his decision.” Id. at 1. According to Plaintiff, that he “can perform deminimus [sic] activities” should not disqualify him from satisfying the requirements under Listing 12.05. Id. at 2. ...

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