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McRoberts v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia

March 29, 2018

DAVID MCROBERTS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          John T. Copenhaver, Jr. United States District Judge

         Pending are the objections to the magistrate judge's Proposed Findings and Recommendation (“PF&R”), filed by defendant Nancy A. Berryhill (the “Commissioner”) on March 13, 2018.

         I. Procedural History

         The plaintiff, David McRoberts (“Claimant”), initiated this action in this court on October 17, 2016, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2016). Claimant seeks review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits.

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 613(b)(1)(B) and the standing order in this district, this action was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Dwane L. Tinsley for findings of fact and recommendations for disposition. On March 17, 2017, the Commissioner filed an answer to Claimant's complaint.

         Because neither party moved for judgment, the magistrate judge, on February 28, 2018, submitted his PF&R “on the merits of the case.” (PF&R 1.) The magistrate judge found that “[t]he [administrative law judge's (“ALJ”)] step three evaluation was inadequate.” (Id. 7.) Step three, which is part of a mandatory five-step analysis conducted by the Commissioner, involves comparing a claimant's impairments to listed impairments in the social security regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) (2017). The magistrate judge reasoned that “[e]ven considering the ALJ's statements outside of step three, without a discussion about the . . . criteria [of Listings 13.13, 13.14, and 13.25] and how those requirements apply to the ALJ's findings, the analysis is incomplete and precludes meaningful review.” (PF&R 7.) Thus, the magistrate judge recommends that the court

remand the final decision of the Commissioner for further consideration under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and dismiss this matter from the Court's docket.

(Id. 8 (emphases omitted).)

         On March 13, 2018, the Commissioner filed objections to the PF&R. The Commissioner contends that “the unique circumstances in this case do not render the ALJ's step three decision regarding Listings 13.13, 13.14, and 13.25 beyond meaningful judicial review.” (Obj. 3.) Claimant did not respond.

         II. Standard of Review

         The court reviews de novo those portions of the magistrate judge's PF&R to which objections are timely filed. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); see Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). On the other hand, the standard for review of the Commissioner's decision is rather deferential to the Commissioner, for “a reviewing court must ‘uphold the determination when an ALJ has applied correct legal standards and the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence.'” Brown v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 873 F.3d 251, 267 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Preston v. Heckler, 769 F.2d 988, 990 (4th Cir. 1985)); Oppenheim v. Finch, 495 F.2d 396, 397 (4th Cir. 1974) (court must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine whether the conclusions reached are supported by substantial evidence); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is that which “a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal citations omitted); accord Brown, 873 F.3d at 267.

         “In reviewing for substantial evidence, [a district court does] not undertake to reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ.” Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam). Substantial evidence is by definition more than “a mere scintilla, ” Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996), but “may be somewhat less than a preponderance, ” Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 776 (4th Cir. 1972) (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1996)).

         III. Discussion

         20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) sets forth “[t]he five-step sequential evaluation process” to be applied by the Commissioner when evaluating an application for disability. The United States Court of ...


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