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Murphy v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia

July 2, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Pending are the objections to the Magistrate Judge's Proposed Findings and Recommendation (“PF&R”), filed by the plaintiff, James Seamon Murphy (“Claimant”), on October 16, 2018.

         I. Procedural History

         On April 27, 2018, Claimant instituted this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Claimant seeks judicial review of defendant Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Commissioner”) administrative decision, which denied his application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income.

         This action was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Omar J. Aboulhosn for consideration in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and the standing order in this district. Claimant and the Commissioner have filed cross motions for judgment on the pleadings.

         II. Standard of Review

         The court reviews de novo those portions of the magistrate judge's PF&R to which objections are timely filed. 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(B); see Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). On the other hand, the standard for review of the Commissioner's decision is rather deferential to the Commissioner under the Social Security Act, for “a reviewing court must ‘uphold the determination when an ALJ has applied correct legal standards and the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence.'” Brown v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 873 F.3d 251, 267 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Preston v. Heckler, 769 F.2d 988, 990 (4th Cir. 1985)); see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Oppenheim v. Finch, 495 F.2d 396, 397 (4th Cir. 1974) (stating that the court must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine whether the conclusions reached are supported by substantial evidence). Substantial evidence is that which “a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal citations omitted); accord Brown, 873, F.3d at 267.

         I. The Objections

         Claimant advances three objections. First, he claims the magistrate judge misapplies the Commissioner's “rules and regulations” in concluding that the finding of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) at step four of the sequential evaluation process - that the Claimant's impairments do not prevent his performance of past relevant work - was supported by substantial evidence.[1] Second, Claimant asserts that the magistrate judge “erred in distinguishing applicable case law” in finding that the ALJ “properly considered” the Claimant's obesity at each step of the sequential process. Third, he claims the ALJ improperly discredited the medical opinion of Dr. Boukhemis, who deemed the Claimant limited to light work. Obj. 5-6.

         A. First Objection

         Claimant asserts that the magistrate judge “misunderst[ood]” the sequential evaluation process in recommending that the ALJ's step four finding was supported by substantial evidence. Obj. 2. In so arguing, Claimant objects to the magistrate judge's conclusion that “it was reasonable for the ALJ to infer that Claimant retained the capacity to perform his past relevant work as a truck driver/operator owner, which is buttressed by the fact that he actually returned to the same job despite his longstanding physical and mental impairments.” Obj. 2. He further insists that the ALJ was required to “pose[] the controlling RFC as a hypothetical to the vocational expert, [] discuss[] the mental demands of Murphy's past work with the vocational expert at the hearing, and [] add[] the vocational expert's . . . summary [of Claimant's past work] to the administrative record” in performing the “requisite analysis . . . at step four.” Obj. 2, 4.

         The Claimant's first objection is without merit. Although the magistrate judge recognizes the reasonableness of the ALJ's inference that, inasmuch as the Claimant alleges an onset date of May 31, 2014, but returned to the same job from October 2015 to May 2016 for Penske Trucking and then from June 2016 to December 13, 2016 for U.S. Express, Claimant retained the capacity to perform his past relevant work despite his alleged impairments, the magistrate judge notes that the ALJ considered the entire record in making her final determination that Claimant is not disabled. See PF&R 9, 22-24. Moreover, the magistrate judge understandably emphasizes the ALJ's inference inasmuch as the Fourth Circuit has held that denial of disability benefits is proper where “[t]he evidence reveals that the [impairment] is one of long standing and [where] claimant has worked regularly for many years affected to virtually the same extent as at present.” Cauthen v. Finch, 426 F.2d 891, 892 (4th Cir. 1970). See also SSR 82-61, 1982 WL 31387, at *2 (“[W]here the evidence shows that a claimant retains the RFC to perform the functional demands and job duties of a particular past relevant job as he or she actually performed it, the claimant should be found to be ‘not disabled.'”). As the magistrate judge correctly notes in his PF&R, the ALJ acknowledged that Claimant returned to his past relevant work as a truck driver, and that there was no evidence that he performed this job any differently from before or prior to May 2014. See PF&R 23.

         Further, Claimant fails to cite any authority in support of his contention that, in order to perform the requisite analysis at step four, the ALJ was required, at the hearing, to pose a hypothetical question to the vocational expert that included the controlling RFC and the physical and mental demands of Claimant's past work, and also add the vocational expert's summary of Claimant's past work to the administrative record.[2] As the magistrate judge correctly explains in his PF&R, “[t]he colloquy between the ALJ and the vocational expert at the hearing was indeed brief, ” however, the ALJ made several findings of fact at step four, which “[c]learly relied on other evidence besides the vocational expert's identification of Claimant's past work, ...

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