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Doty v. Berryhill

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

March 30, 2018

LAURA ANN DOTY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, 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. 9-10 [ECF No. 13]. The defendant timely filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Proposed Findings and Recommendation (“PF&R”). Def.'s Objs. to the Mag. Judge's Prop. Fin. & Rec. (“Def.'s Objs.”) [ECF No. 14].

         The court has reviewed de novo those portions of the PF&R 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. 13], DENIES the plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings [ECF No. 10], GRANTS the defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings [ECF No. 11], AFFIRMS the final decision of the Commissioner, and DISMISSES this action from the court's docket.

         II. Factual and Procedural History

         On April 10, 2013, the plaintiff, Laura Ann Doty, applied for disability insurance benefits and social security income. Prop. Fin. & Rec. 1. Doty's application was denied, and she filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Id. On May 25, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying Doty's applications. Id. The Appeals Counsel denied review of the ALJ's decision, and Doty filed the instant action seeking judicial review thereafter. Id.

         On March 1, 2017, Doty filed a Brief in Support of Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings in which she argues that the ALJ failed to perform an adequate step three analysis and therefore the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. [ECF No. 10]. On February 28, 2018, the Magistrate Judge entered a PF&R, recommending that the Court grant Doty's Motion and remand the case. Prop. Fin. & Rec. 9-10. The Magistrate Judge found that “[t]he ALJ's step three evaluation in the decision is lacking the information necessary to inform a reviewing court how the medical evidence applies to the criteria necessary to make an impairment considered severe enough to prevent an individual from doing any gainful activity.” Id. at 8. Specifically, the Magistrate Judge found that “the ALJ failed to explain how the medical evidence considered did or did not satisfy the Listing 1.04 criteria.” Id. at 9. On March 13, 2018, the defendant, Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, filed objections to the PF&R. Def.'s Objs. On March 26, 2018, Doty responded to the defendant's objections. Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Objs. [ECF No. 15]. 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 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).

         IV. ...


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