United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
OPINION AND ORDER
COKE MORGAN, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Zoe Samantha
Watson's ("Plaintiff') Objections to the Report
and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. Doc. 14. For the
reasons explained below, the Court DECLINES
to adopt the portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report
and Recommendation ("R&R"), Doc. 13, to which
Plaintiff objects. The Court thus DENIES
Defendant Acting Commissioner's ("Defendant")
Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. 10. The Court
GRANTS Plaintiffs Motion for Summary
Judgment Doc. 8, to the extent it seeks reversal and remand
of the Commissioner's decision and
DENIES it to the extent it seeks entry of an
order directing the award of benefits, Therefore, the Court
VACATES and REMANDS the
Commissioner's decision for further administrative
does not object to the recitation of the procedural and
factual background of this case contained in the R&R,
which sets forth, inter alia, the following facts.
Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance
benefits (''DIB") with the Social Security
Administration ("SSA") on February 26, 2014,
alleging a disability onset date of September 1, 2013.
R&R at 1. The application alleged that Plaintiff suffered
from spinal pain, migraines, fibromyalgia, severe depressive
disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic
stress disorder. Id. Plaintiffs application was
denied initially, as well as upon
reconsideration. Id. Plaintiff requested an
administrative hearing, which was conducted on September 30,
2014. Id. at 2; see also R. 53-74.
Following the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act and denied
Plaintiffs claim for disability benefits. R. 33-47. Plaintiff
sought to appeal the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals
Council denied her request for review on July 17, 2015,
making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final
decision. R&R at 2; see also R. 1-3.
September 15, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against the
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
("Defendant"), seeking judicial review of the
Acting Commissioner's decision. See Doc. 1. Defendant
filed an Answer on November 30, 2015. Doc. 4. After this
Court referred this matter to a Magistrate Judge on December
4, 2015, Doc. 6, both parties filed motions for summary
judgment, Docs. 8, 10. On May 18, 2016, the Magistrate Judge
issued the R&R, which concludes that substantial evidence
supports the ALJ's decision. Doc. 13 at 9-20.
Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge recommends that summary
judgment be issued in favor of the Acting Commissioner.
Id. at 20.
filed her objections to the R&R on May 30, 2016. Doc. 14.
Defendant filed a response on June 9, 2016, Doc. 15, and this
matter is now ripe for the Court's consideration.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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. The Court reviews
those parts of a Magistrate Judge's recommendation to
which a party has not objected for clear error. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72; see also Diamond v.
Colonial Life & Ace. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315-16
(4th Cir. 2005).
exercising de novo review of the parts of a
Magistrate Judge's recommendation to which a party has
properly objected, 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. Barnhart. 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. Chaten 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.
disagrees with the ALJ's conclusion that she is not
eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits. See Doc. 14
at 2. In her motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff asserts
that the ALJ erred (1) in failing "to account for all of
the effects of [Plaintiffs] mental impairments affecting her
concentration, persistence and pace" in his Residual
Functional Capacity ("RFC") determination; and (2)
in improperly relying upon "vocational testimony in
reaching his decision that failed to fairly account for all
of [Plaintiffs] limitations resulting from her
impairments." Doc. 9 at 3.
R&R, the Magistrate Judge rejects Plaintiffs arguments
and recommends that the Acting Commissioner's final
decision be affirmed, first, because the ALJ properly
accounted for Plaintiffs mental impairments when making his
RFC determination. Doc. 13 at 13. Second, the Magistrate
Judge finds that the Vocational Examiner's
("VE") testimony in response to the ALJ's
hypotheticals properly accounted for Plaintiffs mental
impairments. Id. at 18.
objections to the R&R, Plaintiff requests that the
R&R be rejected and that summary judgment be entered in
Plaintiffs favor, because the ALJ failed to reconcile two
contradictory findings and because such an error resulted in
an improper RFC finding, which the ALJ then improperly used
as the basis for hypothetical questions to the VE. Doc. 14 at
2, 7. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ thus acted in
contradiction of Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 637
(4th Cir. 2015). Id. Plaintiffs objections appear
identical to the arguments Plaintiff raised before the
Magistrate Judge. See id.; see also Doc. 13
The ALJ Failed to Explain Why Plaintiffs Moderate Limitation
in Concentration, Persistence, or Pace Does Not ...