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Graham v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Bluefield

September 26, 2017

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


          David A. Faber, Senior United States District Judge

         This action seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who denied plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). By Standing Order, this case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Dwane L. Tinsley to consider the pleadings and evidence, and to submit proposed findings of fact and recommendation for disposition, under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). On August 31, 2017, Magistrate Judge Tinsley issued Proposed Findings & Recommendation (“PF&R”), recommending that this court deny Claimant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and Memorandum in Support of Claimant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, affirm the final decision of the Commissioner, and dismiss this case with prejudice. ECF No. 11.

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), the parties had fourteen days, plus three mailing days, from the date of the filing of the PF&R to file objections.

         On September 14, 2017, plaintiff timely filed objections to the PF&R. ECF No. 12. The Government responded seven days later. ECF No. 13.

         I. Background

         Annette Rae Graham, through her husband, Ernie Graham, and counsel, filed the instant DIB application on July 31, 2011, under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) initially denied plaintiff's application on February 24, 2012, and again upon reconsideration on March 29, 2013. Plaintiff requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on June 4, 2014. The ALJ determined that plaintiff was not entitled to disability benefits in a decision dated September 11, 2014. (Tr. at 9-24). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on February 18, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. At 1-3).

         Plaintiff timely filed the present civil action seeking judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). ECF No. 2.

         A detailed factual description of plaintiff's ailments and alleged disability can be found in the PF&R (ECF No. 11, p. 3- 10) and in the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 11-22). These descriptions adequately and faithfully summarize the factual information in the record, making it unnecessary to detail the medical evidence again. Therefore, this opinion will only describe the facts as necessary to address plaintiff's specific objections.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under Rule 72(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the district court reviews de novo any part of a magistrate judge's disposition to which a party has properly filed an objection. However, this court is not required to review, de novo or under any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge regarding those portions of the findings or recommendations to which the parties have addressed no objections. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985).

         The court's review is limited to a determination as to whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's conclusion that plaintiff failed to meet the conditions for entitlement established by and pursuant to the Social Security Act. If such substantial evidence exists, the final decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence has been defined as such relevant evidence, considering the record as a whole, as might be found adequate to support a conclusion by a reasonable mind. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). “If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is ‘substantial evidence.'” Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 776 (4th Cir. 1972) (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)).

         A party that disputes a PF&R “may serve and file specific written objections to the [PF&R].” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2) (emphasis added). This court is required to undertake a de novo review of proper objections to the magistrate judge's PF&R. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Untimely objections of the magistrate judge's PF&R are reviewed only for clear error, if at all. Compare Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee notes (“When no timely objection is filed, the court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.”), with Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149-52 (1985) (“Petitioner first argues that a failure to object waives only de novo review and that the district judge must still review the magistrate's report under some lesser standard. However, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C) simply does not provide for such review.”).

         III. Plaintiff's Objections

         “Plaintiff's Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Proposed Findings and Recommendations” is virtually a verbatim copy of the previously filed “Brief in Support of Plaintiff's Complaint.” Compare ECF No. 12, with ECF No. 10. The only addition worth noting is a section at the end where plaintiff asserts that the magistrate judge adopted the ALJ's findings in their entirety, and therefore “all arguments made against the Commissioners [sic] decision be deemed to be objections to Judge Tinsley's proposed findings and recommendation.” ECF No. 12, ...

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