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 Omar J. Aboulhosn,
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). Judge
Aboulhosn submitted his Proposed Findings and Recommendation
[ECF No. 15] (“PF&R”) and recommended that
the court grant the plaintiff's motion for judgment on
the pleadings to the extent that this matter be remanded back
to the Commissioner, deny the defendant's request for
judgment on the pleadings, reverse the final decision of the
Commissioner, and remand this matter back to the
Commissioner. The defendant filed timely Objections [ECF No.
16] to the Magistrate Judge's findings and
recommendation, and the plaintiff filed a Response [ECF No.
court has reviewed de novo those portions of the
Magistrate Judge's PF&R to which the defendant
objects and finds that the objections lack merit. For the
reasons set forth below, the court OVERRULES
the defendant's objections and ADOPTS
and incorporates herein the findings and recommendation of
the Magistrate Judge [ECF No. 15]. The court
GRANTS the plaintiff's motion for
judgment on the pleadings as articulated in her Brief in
Support of Judgment on the Pleadings [ECF No. 12] to the
extent that this matter be remanded back to the Commissioner,
DENIES the defendant's motion for
judgment on the pleadings as articulated in her Brief in
Support of Judgment of Defendant's Decision [ECF No. 13],
REVERSES the final decision of the
Commissioner, and REMANDS this action back
to the Commissioner.
Factual and Procedural History
plaintiff, Melva Shutts Farris, filed her application for
Title II benefits on June 4, 2013, alleging disability since
April 22, 2013, because of Addison's disease, depression,
spinal stenosis (lower back), sciatica, steroid induced
psychosis, suspicious glaucoma, diabetes insipidus,
hypoparathyroidism, pituitary tumor surgery, Grave's
disease, and adult growth hormone. PF&R 2. The
plaintiff's claim was initially denied on November 12,
2013, and again upon reconsideration on April 21, 2014.
Id. An administrative hearing was held on January 5,
2016, and thereafter the Administrative Law Judge (the
“ALJ”) entered an unfavorable decision.
Id. On March 30, 2016, the plaintiff sought review
by the Appeal's Council. Id. On January 31,
2017, the ALJ's decision became final when the
Appeal's Council denied the plaintiff's request.
Id. On March 28, 2017, the plaintiff timely brought
this action seeking judicial review of the administrative
decision. Compl. [ECF No. 1]. On October 23, 2017, Judge
Aboulhosn submitted a PF&R recommending that the case be
remanded back to the Commissioner because the Commissioner,
through the ALJ, failed to explain the weight given to one of
the plaintiff's treating physicians, Dr. Milhoan.
Standards of Review 3
Proposed Findings of Fact and Recommendations
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). In addition, this court need not
conduct a de novo review when a party “makes
general and conclusory objections that do not direct the
Court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed
findings and recommendations.”Orpiano v.
Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir.1982).
Social Security Appeals
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. § 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. Su livan, 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
defendant submitted two objections to the PF&R. First the
defendant argues that the PF&R “reweighed the
evidence and failed to recognize not only the substantial
evidence, but the overwhelming evidence regarding [the
plaintiff's] lack of fatigue in finding that remand was
warranted for further consideration of Dr. Milhoan's
‘opinion' regarding his assessment of [the]
plaintiff's fatigue as caused by Seroquel.”
Def.'s Objs. to R. & R. 2. Second, the defendant
argues that the PF&R “erroneously characterized Dr.
Milhoan's statement regarding the disabling effect of
Seroquel as ‘opinion evidence' entitled to an
assignment of weight.” Id. at 8.
Milhoan completed a Treating Physician or Direct Care
Provider Form for the Disability Determination Service in
which he stated that the plaintiff was taking Seroquel which
was very sedating, and concluded that ...