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Hall v. Berryhill

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

February 8, 2019

KEVIN BRADLEY HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting 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 Cheryl A. Eifert, 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 deny the plaintiff's request for judgment on the pleadings, grant the defendant's request for judgment on the pleadings to affirm the Administrative Law Judge's decision, affirm the final decision of the Commissioner, and dismiss this action from the court's docket. Proposed Findings & Rec. (“PF&R”) [ECF No. 15].

         On January 7, 2019, the plaintiff timely filed Objections [ECF No. 18] to the Magistrate Judge's PF&R. The defendant filed a Response [ECF No. 19] on January 22, 2019, and the plaintiff Replied [ECF No. 20] on January 29, 2019. The court has reviewed de novo those portions of the Magistrate Judge's PF&R to which the plaintiff objects and finds that the objections lack merit. For the reasons stated herein, the court ADOPTS and INCORPORATES the findings and recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. The court DENIES the plaintiff's request for judgment on the pleadings [ECF No. 12], GRANTS the defendant's request for judgment on the pleadings to affirm the ALJ's decision [ECF No. 13], AFFIRMS the final decision of the Commissioner, and DISMISSES with prejudice this action from the court's docket.

         II. Factual Background

         The factual background of this case is set forth in detail in the PF&R and need not be repeated here. The court ADOPTS the factual background and undisputed facts as set forth in the Magistrate Judge's PF&R.

         III. Legal Standard

         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). 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).

         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. § 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 Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). Further, “[substantial evidence] 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 plaintiff is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the [Commissioner] (or the [Commissioner's] designate, the [Administrative Law Judge]).” 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. Discussion

         The plaintiff makes three objections, which will be discussed in turn.

         1. The Plaintiff's Reply Brief

         ?The plaintiff argues that the Magistrate Judge failed to adequately consider the arguments raised in his Reply Brief [ECF No. 14] seeking judgment on the pleadings. That is, he argues that the PF&R “is silent on the existence of the [R]eply [B]rief beyond a few cursory, non-evaluative citations.” Pl.'s Obj. 2. I find the plaintiff's first objection to be wholly without merit. The Magistrate Judge fairly considered all of the issues addressed in the reply, including “special accommodations, ” PF&R 26-30, the plaintiff's ability to work while standing, id. at 30-35, the reliability of the Vocational Expert (“VE”), id. at 32-33, the plaintiff's reading of Jones v. Apfel, [1]id. at 27-28, ...


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