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Cook v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division

November 8, 2016

DIANNE RICHARDS COOK, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Raymond A. Jackson United states District Judge.

         This matter is currently before the Court on Dianne Richard Cook's ("Plaintiff) objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation ("R&R"). For the reasons set forth below, the R&R is ADOPTED, the Social Security Administration Commissioner's ("Defendant") motion for summary judgment is GRANTED, and Plaintiffs motions for summary judgment and remand are DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") on December 22, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of August 1, 2009, of lower back pain due to a work-related injury. R. 193-207. The Commissioner denied Plaintiffs application, first on May 2, 2012, and again after reconsideration on January 4, 2013. R. 124-27, 141-47. At Plaintiffs request, the ALJ held a hearing on November 21, 2013. R. 42-68. The ALJ denied Plaintiffs application on January 15, 2014. R. 21-35. On April 15, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request to review the ALJ's decision, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Acting Commissioner. R. 1-3.

         On June 19, 2015, Plaintiff, through counsel, filed a complaint seeking the Court's review of the ALJ's decision. ECF No. 1. The Acting Commissioner filed an Answer on August 20, 2015. ECF No. 4. Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and a Motion to Remand on September 25, 2015. ECF Nos. 8, 9. The Acting Commissioner filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on October 28, 2015. ECF No. 11. On July 13, 2016, a United States Magistrate Judge filed a R&R, in which he recommended that Plaintiffs Motions for Summary Judgment and Remand be denied, that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted, and that the Commissioner's final decision (i.e., the ALJ's decision) be affirmed. ECF No. 13.

         On July 25, 2016, Plaintiff filed Objections to the R&R. ECF No. 14. On August 4, 2016, Defendant filed a response. ECF No. 15. This matter is now ripe for disposition.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A district judge is required to "determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The "de novo" requirement means that a district court judge must give "fresh consideration to those issues [in the R&R] to which specific objection has been made by a party." United Stales v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675 (1980); see Wilmer v. Cook, 774 F.2d 68, 73 (4th Cir. 1985) ("[A]ny individual findings of fact or recommendations for disposition by the [Magistrate Judge], if objected to, are subject to final de novo determination on such objections by a district judge ...."). "The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

         A district court reviewing an administrative decision under the Social Security Act must determine whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standard. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (superseded by statute on other grounds). "Substantial evidence" is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, " and "consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Id. (internal quotation and citations omitted).

         In reviewing for substantial evidence, the Court does not re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner (or the Commissioner's designate, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ")). Id. The ALJ's findings as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff raises two objections to the R&R: 1) The ALJ failed to properly weigh the medical opinion evidence; and 2) The ALJ failed to properly evaluate Plaintiffs credibility. After a full review of the record, the parties' briefs both on Plaintiffs objections and on the underlying Motions for Summary Judgment, the Court, having given fresh consideration to the Magistrate Judge's findings, finds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, for the additional reasons stated below, the Court ADOPTS the R&R.

         A. Medical Opinion Evidence

         Plaintiff first objects to the Magistrate Judge's finding that the ALJ properly weighed the medical opinion evidence to determine Plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"). Specifically, Plaintiff argues the ALJ gave too little weight to the opinions of Dr. Caloras and Dr. ...


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