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Staats v. Berryhill

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

March 30, 2018

MELISSA JEAN STAATS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH R. GOODWIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         This action was referred to the Honorable Dwane L. Tinsley, 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 Magistrate Judge has submitted findings of fact and recommended that the court grant the plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings to the extent the plaintiff seeks remand, deny the defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings, reverse the final decision of the Commissioner, and remand this case for further proceedings, and dismiss this matter from the court's docket. Prop. Fin. & Rec. 1 [ECF No. 9]. The defendant filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Proposed Findings and Recommendation [ECF No. 10].

         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 are meritorious. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DECLINES TO ADOPT the findings and recommendation of the Magistrate Judge [ECF No. 9], DENIES the plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings [ECF No. 7], GRANTS the defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings [ECF No. 8], AFFIRMS the final decision of the Commissioner, and DISMISSES this action from the Court's docket.

         II. Factual and Procedural History

         On April 26, 2013, the claimant, Melisa J. Staats, filed a Title II application for disability insurance benefits alleging disability beginning October 15, 2008. Prop. Fin. & Rec. 1. The claim was denied initially as well as on further reconsideration. Id. On November 4, 2016, Staats filed a complaint before this court. Compl. [ECF No. 1].

         On February 3, 2017, Staats filed a Brief in Support of Judgment on the Pleadings [ECF No. 7]. In it, Staats argues that reversal is necessary because “the ALJ failed to properly assess Staats's fibromyalgia.” Id. at 1. On February 28, 2017, the defendant, Nancy A. Berryhill, filed a Brief in Support of Defendant's Decision, arguing that the ALJ correctly handled Staat's claim. [ECF No. 8].

         On March 2, 2018, the Magistrate Judge entered Proposed Findings and Recommendation, suggesting that the Court find that the ALJ properly addressed the claimant's fibromyalgia. Prop. Fin. & Rec. 10. While Staats did not raise the issue in this appeal, the Magistrate Judge recommended that the Court find that the ALJ's step three analysis of Staat's coronary artery disease was deficient because “the ALJ failed to explain how that medical evidence demonstrated that the criteria for Listing 4.04 was not met.” Id. According to the Magistrate Judge, this omission makes remand necessary. On March 3, 2018, the defendant timely filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendation. Def.'s Objs. Prop. Fin. & Rec. On March 27, 2018, the plaintiff responded. Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Objs. [ECF No. 11]. These matters are currently before the Court.

         III. Standards of Review

         a. Review of the PF&R

         A district court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). This court is not, however, required to review, under a de novo or any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as to those portions of the findings or recommendation to which no objections are addressed. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985).

         b. Review of the ALJ's Findings and 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). 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 ...


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