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Lee v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia, Elkins

February 22, 2019

MATTHEW M. LEE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         On this day, the above-styled matter came before this Court for consideration of the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) of United States Magistrate Judge James P. Mazzone [Doc. 17] and the pro se plaintiff's Objections thereto [Doc. 19]. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), this Court is required to make a de novo review of those portions of the magistrate judge's findings to which objection is made. However, failure to file objections permits the district court to review the R&R under the standards that the district court believes are appropriate, and under these circumstances, the parties' right to de novo review is waived. See Webb v. Califano, 468 F.Supp. 825 (E.D. Cal. 1979). Accordingly, this Court will conduct a de novo review only as to those portions of the R&R to which the plaintiff objected. The remaining portions of the R&R will be reviewed for clear error. As a result, it is the opinion of this Court that the R&R should be ADOPTED.

         I. Background

         On February 8, 2014, the pro se plaintiff, Matthew Morrison Lee, filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), alleging a disability beginning July 30, 2003 [Doc. 10-2 at 13]. The plaintiff's claim was initially denied on May 6, 2014, and again upon reconsideration on August 20, 2014 [Id.]. Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a request for a hearing on October 17, 2014 [Id.]. The plaintiff appeared pro se and testified at a video hearing in Morgantown, West Virginia on August 10, 2016 [Id.]. A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified [Id.]. Plaintiff's parents also appeared but did not testify as witnesses. On December 29, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision [Id. at 29]. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's findings on January 23, 2018 [Id. at 2].

         On March 26, 2018, plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court to obtain judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application [Doc. 1]. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment [Docs. 13 & 14].

         On January 28, 2019, Magistrate Judge Mazzone entered his R&R in which he concludes that the ALJ's decision denying the plaintiff's application for DIB is supported by substantial evidence and complied with the applicable law [Doc. 17]. As such, the magistrate judge recommends that the plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 13] be denied and the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 14] be granted. The magistrate judge further recommends that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed and the case be dismissed with prejudice [Doc. 17]. On February 13, 2019, the plaintiff filed timely objections [Doc. 19].

         II. Applicable Legal Standards

         A. Judicial Review of an ALJ Decision

         Judicial review of a final decision regarding disability benefits is limited to determining whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “The findings . . . as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). The phrase “‘supported by substantial evidence'” means “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” See Perales, 402 U.S. at 401 (citing Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). 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). Thus, “[i]t is not within the province of a reviewing court to determine the weight of the evidence; nor is it [the court's] function to substitute [its] judgment . . . if [the] decision is supported by substantial evidence.” Id. (citing Snyder v. Ribicoff, 307 F.2d 518, 520 (4th Cir. 1962)). Ultimately, it is the duty of the ALJ reviewing a case, and not the responsibility of the courts, to make findings of fact and to resolve conflicts in the evidence. King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th Cir. 1979). “This Court does not find facts or try the case de novo when reviewing disability determinations.” Id.; see also Seacrist v. Weinberger, 538 F.2d 1054, 1056-57 (4th Cir. 1976); and Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).

         B. Five-Step Evaluation Process

         To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ considers the following five- step evaluation process:

Step One: Determine whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity;
Step Two: Determine whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
Step Three: Determine whether the claimant has a listed impairment (20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1) and conduct a Residual Functional Capacity ...

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