United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
T. COPENHAVER, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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.
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.
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.
Standard of Review
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.
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. 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.
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.
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
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. 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, ...