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Ashcraft v. Berryhill

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

October 2, 2017

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



         On this day, the above-styled matter came before this Court for consideration of the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge James E. Seibert [Doc. 15]. Pursuant to this Court's local rules, this action was referred to Magistrate Judge Seibert for submission of a proposed report and recommendation (“R&R”). Magistrate Judge Seibert filed his R&R on September 12, 2017, wherein he recommends that the plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment be denied, that the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted, that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed, and that this case be dismissed with prejudice. (Id.). On September 19, 2017, the plaintiff timely filed objections to the R&R [Doc. 16]. For the reasons set forth below, this Court adopts Magistrate Judge Seibert's R&R.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 26, 2013, the plaintiff filed a Title II application for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), alleging disability beginning May 29, 2013 [Doc. 7-2 at 24]. The claim was initially denied on September 24, 2013 (Id.), and again upon reconsideration on November 22, 2013 (Id.). The plaintiff then filed a written request for hearing, and later appeared and testified at a hearing on May 22, 2015, in front of Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Karl Alexander. [Id. at 35]. On August 21, 2015, the ALJ entered a decision finding that the plaintiff was not disabled under Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. (Id.).

         In accordance with the five-step evaluation process described in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 29, 2013, the alleged onset date. (20 C.F.R. § 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: bipolar I/II disorder without psychotic features; anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified; personality disorder not otherwise specified; and morbid obesity. (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526).
5. The claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c) except: should work in a low stress environment with no production line or assembly line type of pace, no independent decision-making responsibilities, and minimal changes in the daily work routine; is limited to unskilled work involving only routine and repetitive instructions and tasks; should have no interaction with the general public, and minimal, no more than occasional interaction with co-workers and supervision.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work. (20 C.F.R. § 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on March 31, 1976, and was 37 years old, which is defined as a younger individual, on the alleged disability onset date. (20 C.F.R. § 404.1563).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English. (20 C.F.R. § 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills. (See SSR 82-41 and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform. (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569, 404.1569(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from May 29, 2013, through the date of this decision. (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)).


         On September 28, 2016, the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review, which made the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security [Doc. 7-2 at 2]. On November 22, 2016, the plaintiff filed the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security for denying the plaintiff's claim for DIB under Title II of the Social Security Act [Doc. 1]. The R&R recommends affirming the decision of the ALJ because that decision complied with the applicable law and regulations and was supported by substantial evidence [Doc. 15 at 9].


         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), this Court must conduct a de novo review of any portion of the magistrate judge's recommendation to which objection is timely made. As to those portions of a recommendation to which no objection is made, a magistrate judge's findings and recommendation will be upheld unless they are “clearly erroneous.” See Webb v. Califano, 458 F.Supp. 825 (E.D. Cal. 1979). Because the plaintiff filed timely objections, this Court will undertake a de novo review as to those portions of the report and recommendation to which objections were made.

         An ALJ's findings will be upheld if supported by substantial evidence. See Milburn Colliery Co. v. Hicks, 138 F.3d 524, 528 (4th Cir. 1998). Substantial evidence is that which a “reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Further, the “possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's findings from being supported by substantial evidence.” Sec'y of Labor v. Mutual Mining, Inc., 80 F.3d 110, 113 (4th Cir. 1996) (quoting Consolo v. Fed. Mar. Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1996)). The issue is not whether a claimant is disabled, but whether the ALJ's finding of disabled or not disabled is supported by substantial evidence and was reached based upon a correct application of the relevant law. Meyer v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 700, 704 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996)).

         III. ...

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