United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. BERGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
an action seeking review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (Defendant) denying the
Plaintiff's applications for disability insurance
benefits (DIB) under Title II and supplemental security
income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act
(SSA). By Standing Order (Document 3) entered on
August 17, 2018, this matter was referred to the Honorable
Dwane L. Tinsley, United States Magistrate Judge, for
findings of fact and recommendation for disposition. On June
24, 2019, Judge Tinsley submitted his Proposed Findings
and Recommendation (PF&R) (Document 14),
recommending that the Court affirm the final decision of the
Commissioner, deny the Plaintiff's memorandum in support
of summary judgment, and dismiss this matter from the
Court has reviewed the Plaintiff's Objections to the
Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation
(Document 15), the Defendant's Response to
Plaintiff's Objections to the Magistrate
Judge's Report and Recommendation (Document 16), and
the Plaintiff's Reply to Defendant's Response to
Plaintiff's Objections to the Magistrate Judge's
Proposed Finding and Recommendation (Document 17). The
Court has also reviewed the original briefing, the
administrative record (Document 8 and attachments), and the
PF&R. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that
the objections should be overruled.
Plaintiff, Hope Leanne Angell, filed an application for DIB
on February 12, 2015, and an application for SSI on June 22,
2015. She alleged disability beginning on December 23, 2014.
She was found to have the following medically determinable
impairments: scoliosis, depression, anxiety, and
posttraumatic stress disorder. Her claims were denied at each
successive stage, and she timely sought judicial review.
under the SSA is defined as the “inability to engage in
any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Social
Security Administration utilizes a five-step sequential
inquiry to determine eligibility for social security
disability benefits. If a claimant is determined not to be
disabled at one step, the evaluation does not proceed to the
next step. See Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650,
653-54 (4th Cir. 2005)). The Fourth Circuit has summarized
the five-step process as follows:
the ALJ asks at step one whether the claimant has been
working; at step two, whether the claimant's medical
impairments meet the regulations' severity and duration
requirements; at step three, whether the medical impairments
meet or equal an impairment listed in the regulations; at
step four, whether the claimant can perform her past work
given the limitations caused by her medical impairments; and
at step five, whether the claimant can perform other work.
Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634 (4th Cir. 2015).
“If the first three steps do not lead to a conclusive
determination, the ALJ then assesses the claimant's
residual functional capacity, which is ‘the most'
the claimant ‘can still do despite' physical and
mental limitations that affect her ability to work.”
(citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1)). Id. at 635.
If the claimant is able to perform his or her past work, the
ALJ can find the claimant not to be disabled. Id. If
the claimant is not able to perform his or her past work, the
ALJ proceeds to step five, where “the burden shifts to
the Commissioner to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence
that the claimant can perform other work that ‘exists
in significant numbers in the national economy,'
considering the claimant's residual functional capacity,
age, education, and work experience.” Id.
(citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v);
Federal Magistrates Act requires a district court to conduct
a de novo review upon the record of any portion of
the proposed findings and recommendations to which written
objections have been made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1);
see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). Conversely, a
district court is not 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. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149-50
(1985); see also Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199
(4th Cir. 1983) (holding that districts courts may adopt
proposed findings and recommendations without explanation in
the absence of objections). A district court judge may
“accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the
findings or recommendations made by the magistrate
judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) (2006). A district
court's authority to choose among these options is
independent of the statutory duty to afford review to those
portions to which objections are addressed. See
Camby, 718 F.2d at 199-200 (“If no objections were
made, for example, it could hardly be argued that the judge
must accept the [magistrate judge's] report if it
contained an error of law apparent on its face.”). As
such, it is wholly within the district court's discretion
to accept, reject, or modify a magistrate judge's
proposal irrespective of any objections by the parties.
See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676
(1980). Running parallel with district courts' discretion
under the Federal Magistrates Act is the responsibility to
ensure the just disposition of matters referred to magistrate
judges. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 271
(1976); see also Raddatz, 447 U.S. at 683.
405(g) of the SSA provides, “the 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). “When examining an SSA disability
determination, a reviewing court is required to uphold the
determination when an ALJ has applied correct legal standards
and the ALJ's factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence.” Bird v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec. Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012).
“Substantial evidence has been defined innumerable
times as more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.” Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d
541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964) (citing Consolidated Edison Co.
v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197 (1938)). In making its
determination, the Court must look to “the whole record
to assure that there is a sound foundation for the
Secretary's findings, and that his conclusion is
rational.” Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157,
1157-58 (4th Cir. 1971). When the Commissioner's decision
clearly disregards the overwhelming weight of the evidence,
the Court may modify or reverse the decision. Id.
Magistrate Judge set forth the Plaintiff's background and
medical conditions in detail, and the Court incorporates
those findings by reference herein. In summary, Ms. Angell
worked as a medical transcriptionist prior to leaving her job
as a result of her alleged disability. At the time of the
Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ's) decision, she was
forty years old. She has two children, and her parents live
nearby. She complained of back pain and was diagnosed with
scoliosis. Beginning in 2014, she complained of panic
attacks, anxiety, depression, difficulty dealing with past
trauma, and some memory problems.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ did not appropriately weigh
the psychological opinions and did not sufficiently explain
her decision to give greater weight to the non-examining
State agency consultants than to the examining doctor who
offered an opinion at the request of Plaintiff's counsel.
The Magistrate Judge concluded that the ALJ's opinion was
supported by substantial evidence and was adequately
explained. The Plaintiff objects, contending that the
Magistrate Judge improperly weighed the evidence by finding
support for the ALJ's decision in the record ...