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Cassidy v. Berryhill

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

February 26, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,



         This action was referred to the Honorable Omar J. Aboulhosn, United States Magistrate Judge, for submission to this court of proposed findings of fact and recommendation for disposition, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). The court has reviewed de novo those portions of the Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendation to which the defendant objects and finds that the objections lack merit. For the reasons set forth below, the court ADOPTS and incorporates herein the findings and recommendation of the Magistrate Judge [ECF No. 22]. The court GRANTS the plaintiff's request that this matter be remanded back to the Commissioner [ECF No. 17], DENIES the defendant's request to affirm the ALJ's decision [ECF No. 20], REVERSES the final decision of the Commissioner, REMANDS this matter back to the Commissioner, and DISMISSES this action from the court's docket.

         I. Statement of Facts

         As explained in more depth in the PF&R, Christopher Clark Cassidy, the claimant, applied for Title II benefits on July 19, 2013. Proposed Findings & Recom. 2 (PF&R”) [ECF No. 22]. He alleges that he became disabled on April 12, 2012, because of “arthritis, rod and 4 screws and cage in lower back, back injury, herniated discs, bulging discs, permanent nerve damage, depression, and insomnia.” Id. After several administrative decisions and appeals, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) entered a decision denying the claimant's claims on April 19, 2017. Id. On June 13, 2017, the claimant timely brought the present action seeking judicial review of the administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Id.

         The claimant filed a motion requesting that the court remand the case back to the Commissioner [ECF No. 17]. The defendant filed a motion seeking judgment on the pleadings [ECF No. 20], and the claimant filed a reply [ECF No. 21]. These briefs are currently before the court. The Magistrate Judge submitted findings of fact and recommended that the court grant the plaintiff's request for judgment on the pleadings to the extent that this matter be remanded back to the Commissioner, deny the defendant's request to affirm the ALJ's decision, reverse the final decision of the Commissioner, and remand this matter back to the Commissioner. On January 5, 2017, the defendant timely filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendation.

         II. Standards of Review

         a. Standard of Review of PF&R

         In reviewing the PF&R, the 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). In doing so, the Court can “accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” Id.

         b. Standard of Review of Commissioner's Decision

         The Social Security Act states that “[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C.A.§ 405(g) (West Supp. 1998). The Supreme Court has defined substantial evidence as “such relevant 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)). Further, “[i]t consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966).

         In reviewing the case for substantial evidence, the court does not re-weigh conflicting evidence, make determinations as to credibility, or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Rather, the court must adopt the Commissioner's findings if there is evidence in support of such findings “to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury.” Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 776 (4th Cir. 1972). “Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the [Commissioner] (or the [Commissioner's] designate, the ALJ).” Walker v. Bowen, 834 F.2d 635, 640 (7th Cir. 1987). Thus, even if the court would have reached a different decision, it must nonetheless defer to the conclusions of the ALJ if such conclusions are bolstered by substantial evidence and were reached through a correct application of relevant law. See Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987).

         III. Analysis

         Here, the only objections made to the PF&R were made by the defendant. The defendant claims that the Magistrate Judge erred in concluding that remand is necessary for (1) further evaluation of Dr. Patel's February 2010 opinion, and (2) further development of the record regarding the claimant's knee impairment. Def.'s Objections to the Findings & Recom. of the U.S. Magistrate Judge 1-8 [ECF No. 23].

         The Magistrate Judge found that remand is appropriate, in part, because the ALJ's valuation of Dr. Patel's opinion was not rational. On February 10, 2010, Dr. Patel released an opinion about the claimant's ability to return to work. PF&R 26. Specifically, Dr. Patel found “if he can do light duty where he can lift no more than 10 pounds and in a sedentary type position where he can sit 15 minutes and stand 15 minutes at a time, that might be an option; otherwise, I recommend he continue to stay off work.” Id. The ALJ assigned partial weight to this opinion. Id. It should not have, however, considered this opinion at all for ...

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