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Little v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia

February 23, 2016

ELAINE CAROL LITTLE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant,

OPINION AND ORDER

Henry Coke Morgan. Jr. Senior United States District Judge

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Elaine Carol Little's ("Plaintiff") Objections to the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. Doc. 14. For the reasons explained below, the Court OVERRULES Plaintiffs objections and ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report & Recommendation ("R&R"), Doc. 13.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff does not object to the recitation of the procedural and factual background of this case contained in the R&R. which sets for. inter alia, the following facts, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") with the Social Security Administration C'SSA") on August 18, 2008, alleging a disability onset date of July 29, 2008. R&R at 2. The application alleged that Plaintiff suffered from a mini-stroke, or a transient is chemic attack ("TIA") in July 2008. Id. Additionally, Plaintiff later stated that prior to her TIA she had developed arthritis in her cervical spine and pain in her right knee. Id. at 5. Plaintiffs application was denied initially, as well as upon reconsideration.[1] Id. Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which was conducted on May 11, 2010. Id.; see also R. 22-41. Following the hearing, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") William T. Vest concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and denied Plaintiffs claim for disability benefits. R. 8-10. Plaintiff sought to appeal the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council denied her request for review on March 30, 2012, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. R&R at 2; see also R. 1-3.

On May 31, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. See Doc. 1 (2:12cv300). On June 7, 2013, United States District Judge Raymond A. Jackson of the Eastern District of Virginia remanded the case to the ALJ, R. 601-10, and the Appeals Council sent the case to an ALJ on August 13, 2013, R. 628.

ALJ Vest conducted another hearing on February 10, 2014. R. 550-600. Following this hearing, the ALJ again concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and denied her claim for disability benefits. Id. at 531-44. Plaintiff sought to appeal the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council denied her request for review on December 1, 2014. Id. at 514-17. This denial made the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. Id.

Plaintiff filed the instant action on February 2, 2015, seeking judicial review of the Acting Commissioner's decision. See Doc. 1. The Acting Commissioner filed an Answer on April 7, 2015. Doc. 4. After this Court referred this matter to a Magistrate Judge on April 8, 2015, both parties filed motions for summary judgment. Docs. 8, 11. Plaintiff also filed a motion to remand. Doc. 9. On December 28, 2015, the Magistrate Judge issued the R&R, which concludes that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision and that Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as a computer data entry operator within the limits of her residual functional capacity. Doc. 13 at 12-23. Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge recommends that summary judgment be issued in favor of the Acting Commissioner. Id. at 24.

Plaintiff filed her objections to the R&R on January 11, 2016. Doc. 14. Defendant filed a response to the objections on January 25, 2016, Doc. 15, and this matter is now ripe for the Court's consideration.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court reviews de novo any part of a Magistrate Judge's recommendation to which a party has properly objected. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The Court may then "accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Id.

In exercising de novo review, the Court analyzes the Commissioner's final decision using the same standard as that used by the Magistrate Judge. Specifically, the Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to determining whether that decision was supported by substantial evidence on the record and whether the proper legal standard was applied in evaluating the evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Johnson v. Bamhart. 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam). Substantial evidence is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion." Id. (quoting Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996)) (internal quotation mark omitted). Courts have further explained that substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of evidence, but more than a mere scintilla of evidence. Laws v. Celebrezze. 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966). Importantly, in reviewing the ALJ's decision the Court does not "reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [ALJ]." Id. (quoting Craig. 76 F.3d at 589) (internal quotation mark omitted) (final alteration in original). Thus, if the Court finds that there was substantial evidence to support the ALJ's factual findings, even if there was also evidence to support contrary findings, the ALJ's factual findings must be upheld.

III. ANALYSIS

Plaintiff disagrees with the ALJ's conclusion that she is not eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits. See Doc. 14 at 1. In her motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred (1) by finding that Plaintiff could perform her past work as a data entry operator; (2) in failing to properly weigh the medical evidence and to properly determine Plaintiffs residential functional capacity; and (3) in failing to make appropriate credibility findings. Doc. 10.

In the R&R, the Magistrate Judge rejects Plaintiffs arguments and recommends that the Acting Commissioner's final decision be affirmed, first, because Plaintiff failed to prove that she could not perform her past relevant work as a data entry operator. Doc. 13 at 12-14. Second, the Magistrate Judge found that the ALJ properly weighed the medical evidence and that substantial evidence in the record supported the ALJ's decision to give little weight to the opinion of Dr. Charles, Plaintiffs treating physician. Id. at 16. Finally, the Magistrate Judge found that "the ALJ's credibility determination was supported by substantial ...


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