United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division
Tommie N. Smith, Jr., Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
K. MOON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross Motions
for Summary Judgment (dkts. 14 and 16), the Report and
Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Robert S.
Ballou (dkt. 20, hereinafter “R&R”), and
Plaintiff's Objections to the R&R (dkt. 21,
hereinafter “Objections”). Pursuant to Standing
Order 2011-17 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), the Court
referred this matter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Ballou for
proposed findings of fact and a recommended disposition.
Judge Ballou filed his R&R, advising this Court to deny
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and grant the
Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff
timely filed his Objections, obligating the Court to
undertake a de novo review of those portions of the
R&R to which objections were made. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B); Farmer v. McBride, 177 F.
App'x 327, 330 (4th Cir. 2006). Because Plaintiff's
Objections lack merit, I will adopt Judge Ballou's
R&R in full.
Standard of Review
reviewing court must uphold the factual findings of the ALJ
if they are supported by substantial evidence and were
reached through application of the correct legal standard.
See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3);
Hines v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 561 (4th Cir.
2006). Substantial evidence requires more than a mere
scintilla, but less than a preponderance, of evidence.
Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001).
A finding is supported by substantial evidence if it is based
on “relevant evidence [that] a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir.
2005) (per curiam). Where “conflicting evidence allows
reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is
disabled, ” the Court must defer to the
Commissioner's decision. Johnson, 434 F.3d at
reviewing court may not “re-weigh conflicting evidence,
make credibility determinations, or substitute [its]
judgment” for that of the ALJ. Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (citation
omitted). “Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable
minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the
responsibility for that decision falls on the Secretary (or
the Secretary's designate, the ALJ).” Id.
(quoting Walker v. Bowen, 834 F.2d 635, 640 (7th
Cir. 1987)). “Ultimately, it is the duty of the [ALJ]
reviewing a case, and not the responsibility of the courts,
to make findings of fact and to resolve conflicts in the
evidence.” Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453,
1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Thus, even if the court would have made
contrary determinations of fact, it must nonetheless uphold
the ALJ's decision, so long as it is supported by
substantial evidence. See Whiten v. Finch, 437 F.2d
73, 74 (4th Cir. 1971).
Plaintiff does not object to the R&R's recitation of
the factual background and claim history in this case, I
incorporate that portion of the R&R into this opinion.
(See R&R at 2-3). By way of summary, Plaintiff
applied for (and was denied) disability insurance benefits
under the Social Security Act based on his back condition and
diabetes. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff maintained the
residual work capacity to perform light work with certain
exceptions, and that he is capable of performing past
relevant work as a school bus monitor and retail store
manager. (R&R at 3; see R14-18).
challenging the ALJ's conclusions and objecting to Judge
Ballou's R&R, Plaintiff misunderstands the
application of the standard of review. He contends that the
R&R (and by extension, the ALJ) “ignore[d]”
evidence from Jason Meador, P.A. that Plaintiff suffered back
pain, and that other evidence in the record confirmed that
conclusion. (Objections at 2).
question is not whether a reasonable fact-finder could have
reached a different conclusion than the ALJ about the extent
of Plaintiff's pain and his relative ability to perform
meaningful work. Rather, the question is whether the
ALJ's conclusion is supported by substantial evidence. It
is. As Judge Ballou observed, Plaintiff's motion for
summary judgment “argument is merely an invitation to
re-weigh the evidence and conclude that [he] suffers from
impairments which more severely limit his functional capacity
that the RFC found by the ALJ.” (R&R at 6). Indeed,
Plaintiff's objections to the R&R-which are sparsely
developed and span hardly two pages-take the same tact, pointing
to some evidence that he suffered pain and describing the
extent of it. (See Objections at 2-3 (citing,
e.g., R 263, 266, 277, 297, 326, 341, 246)). From
this, Plaintiff contends again that this evidence provides
“objective proof” of his disorder sufficient to
cause disabling pain. (Id. at 2).
the R&R ably recounts, the ALJ took all the evidence into
consideration and concluded that evidence other than that
cited by Plaintiff revealed that Plaintiff retained the
ability to perform some work, in part because his pain was
not debilitating. The ALJ relied upon medical evidence from
Dr. Murray Joiner, Dr. George Wagner, Dr. John Fraser,
physician's assistant Jason Meador, and a physical
therapist showing that, inter alia, Plaintiff's
pain was “inconsistent, ” “exaggerated,
” did not appear as medically severe as reported, and
did not prevent him from performing a variety of movements.
(R&R at 4-5; see, e.g., R244, 247, 263-
66, 277-78, 330-34, 346). From this and other evidence, the
ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's “treatment record
does not support his allegations regarding the severity of
his limitations” and that the “record as a whole
does not establish that he is so limited that he cannot work
at all.” (R17).
requirement of “substantial evidence” in support
of an ALJ's conclusions is not a high bar: It is
“relevant evidence [that] a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Barnhart, 434 F.3d at 653. The ALJ's conclusion
in this case meets that threshold. Although a rational person
might have reached a different conclusion, where
“conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ
as to whether a claimant is disabled, ” the Court must
defer to the Commissioner's decision. Id.
undertaking a de novo review of those portions of
the R&R to which Plaintiff objected, I find that
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusions.
Accordingly, I will enter an order overruling Plaintiff's
Objections (dkt. 21), adopting the Magistrate Judge's
R&R in full (dkt. 20), granting the Commissioner's
Motion for Summary Judgment (dkt. 16), denying
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (dkt. 14), and
dismissing and striking this action from the active docket of
Clerk of the Court is hereby directed to send a certified
copy of this Memorandum Opinion and the accompanying Order to
all counsel of record, and to ...