United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. GOODWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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].
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.
Factual and Procedural History
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.
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.
Standards of Review
Review of the PF&R
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).
Review of the ALJ's Findings and Decision
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).
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