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Smith v. Berryhill

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

March 29, 2018

JONIE LEE SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. CHAMBERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This action for judicial review of an administrative determination under the Social Security Act was referred to the Honorable Dwane L. Tinsley, United States Magistrate Judge, for proposed findings of fact and recommendation for disposition (“PF&R”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Now pending before the Court are Plaintiff's and Defendant's Briefs in Support of Judgment on the Pleadings. ECF Nos. 8 & 9. In the PF&R, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court DENY Defendant's Motion, GRANT Plaintiff's Motion, REVERSE the final decision of the Commissioner, and REMAND this case to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings. Defendant objects. ECF. No. 11. For the following reasons, the Court REJECTS the Magistrate Judge's PF&R and REMANDS this case to the Magistrate Judge for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

         I. Background

         On October 29, 2013, Plaintiff filed a claim for supplemental security disability benefits with the Social Security Administration, alleging disability beginning on October 1, 2009. Her claim was initially denied on February 21, 2014, and denied upon reconsideration on June 16, 2014. Tr. 95-99 & 106-08, ECF No. 7-5, at 2-6 & 13-15. Plaintiff filed a request for hearing on July 1, 2014. See Tr. at 113-15, ECF No. 7-5, at 20-22. An administrative hearing was held on April 28, 2015, during which an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) heard evidence on Plaintiff's claims. Tr. at 24-69, ECF No. 7-3, at 2-47. Both Plaintiff and a Vocational Expert testified. Plaintiff's alleged onset date of disability also was amended to October 29, 2013. Tr. 29-30 & 198, ECF No. 7-3, at 7-8, ECF No. 7-7, at 30.

         After consideration of the case, the ALJ entered a decision on June 12, 2015, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. at 10-20, ECF No. 7-2, at 11-21. Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council on August 12, 2015. Tr. at 6, ECF No. 7-2, at 7. After consideration of the administrative record, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 3, 2016, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. at 1-3, ECF No. 7-2, at 2-4.

         Plaintiff filed the present Complaint on December 7, 2016, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision to deny her claims for benefits. ECF No. 1. In her Brief in Support of Judgment on the Pleadings, Plaintiff makes two arguments: (1) “Whether the decision of the Administrative Law Judge is supported by substantial evidence when the Administrative Law Judge's Residual Functional Capacity Evaluation did not address all of Plaintiff's Limitations, ” and (2) “Whether the decision of the Administrative Law Judge is supported by substantial evidence when the Administrative Law Judge failed to properly consider the opinion of the Vocational Expert who testified that Plaintiff is unable to engage in substantial activity[.]” Plf.'s Br. in Supp. of J. on the Pleadings, at 4, ECF No. 8.

         In the PF&R, however, the Magistrate Judge found he could not conduct a meaningful review because “the ALJ did not indicate the weight given to Claimant's treating physicians Dr. Hansen and Dr. Soleymani.” PF&R, at 14, ECF No. 10. Therefore, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court remanded back to the ALJ. The Magistrate Judge also said “the ALJ did not identify which State Agency opinions he gave great weight.” Id. Neither of these reasons were raised by Plaintiff. Defendant filed timely objections to the PF&R on March 12, 2018. ECF No. 11.

         II. Standards of Review

         a. Standard of Review of PF&R

         In reviewing the PF&R, 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). In doing so, the Court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” Id. The Court, however, is not required to review the factual or legal conclusions of the Magistrate Judge to which no objections are made. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985).

         b. Standard of Review of Commissioner's Decision

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), “[t]he court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” After reviewing the prescribed materials, if the Court finds that the Commissioner's decision is supported by “substantial evidence, ” the Court must affirm the decision. Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972).

         III. Discussion

         Defendant makes two objections to the PF&R. Def.'s Obj. to PF&R, ECF No. 11. First, Defendant argues that the Magistrate Judge erred in recommending remand based upon the ALJ's failure to indicate the weight he gave to Plaintiff's treating physicians. Id. at 2-6. Second, Defendant asserts the Magistrate Judge erred in finding the ALJ erred in failing to identify what ...


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