United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
JESSICA A. GRAHAM, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge
Jessica A. Graham brought this action for review of defendant
Nancy A. Berryhill's (the commissioner's) final
decision denying her claim for supplemental security income
(SSI) under the Social Security Act (the Act). See
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2012) (authorizing a district court
to enter judgment “affirming, modifying, or reversing
the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security”).
The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, which
the court referred to United States Magistrate Judge Robert
S. Ballou for a report and recommendation pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). In his report, the magistrate
judge concluded that substantial evidence supported the
commissioner's decision. (Dkt. No. 20.)
timely filed written objections. (Dkt. No. 21.) After de novo
review of the pertinent portions of the record, the report,
and the filings by the parties, in conjunction with
applicable law, the court agrees with, and will adopt in
full, the magistrate judge's recommendation. Accordingly,
defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted,
and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment will be
court adopts the recitation of facts and procedural
background as set forth in the report. (Report 2-4, Dkt. No.
Standard of Review
court's review of the administrative law judge's
(ALJ) underlying decision is limited. Specifically,
“[a] district court's primary function in reviewing
an administrative finding of no disability is to determine
whether the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial
evidence.” Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517
(4th Cir. 1987). Substantial evidence does not require a
“large or considerable amount of evidence, ”
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 564- 65 (1988);
rather, it requires “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971). This is “more than a mere scintilla of
evidence [and] somewhat less than a preponderance.”
Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir.
as here, a matter has been referred to a magistrate judge
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), this court reviews de
novo the portions of the report to which a timely objection
has been made. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3) (“The district
judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate
judge's disposition that has been properly objected
to.”); United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667,
673-74 (1980) (finding that de novo review of the
magistrate's report and recommendation comports with due
order for an objection to trigger de novo review, it must be
made “with sufficient specificity so as reasonably to
alert the district court of the true ground for the
objection.” United States v. Midgette, 478
F.3d 616, 622 (4th Cir. 2007). See also Page v. Lee,
337 F.3d 411, 416 n.3 (4th Cir. 2003)
(“[P]etitioner's failure to object to the
magistrate judge's recommendation with the specificity
required by the Rule is, standing alone, a sufficient basis
upon which to affirm the judgment of the district court as to
this claim.”). Further, objections must respond to a
specific error in the report and recommendation. See
Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982).
General or conclusory objections, therefore, are not proper;
they are in fact considered the equivalent of a waiver.
Id. Likewise, an objection that merely repeats the
arguments made in the briefs before the magistrate judge is a
general objection and is treated as a failure to object.
Moon v. BWX Techs, 742 F.Supp.2d 827, 829 (W.D. Va.
2010), aff'd, 498 F. App'x 268 (4th Cir.
2012) (citing Veney v. Astrue, 539 F.Supp.2d 841,
844-46 (W.D. Va. 2008)).
raises two objections to the report, and, although they are
the same basic arguments that she made in her brief before
the magistrate judge, she points to specific parts of the
report and its reasoning that she believes are incorrect.
Thus, the court will address her objections and apply a de
novo standard of review.
October 31, 2014, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing
Graham's claim, ultimately concluding that Graham was
ineligible for benefits. In reaching his decision, the ALJ
followed the five-step process found in 20 C.F.R. §
416.920 (2016). The five-step evaluation asks the following
questions, in order: (1) whether the claimant is working or
participating in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether
the claimant has a severe impairment of the duration required
by 20 C.F.R. § 416.909; (3) whether she has a type of
impairment whose type, severity, and duration meets the
requirements listed in the statute; (4) whether she can
perform her past work, and if not, what her residual
functional capacity (RFC) is; and (5) whether work exists for
the RFC assessed to the claimant. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4). The claimant bears the burden of proof at
steps one through four to establish a prima facie case for
disability. At the fifth step, the burden shifts to the
commissioner to establish that the claimant maintains the
RFC, considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and impairments, to perform available alternative
work in the local and national economies. 42 U.S.C. §
case, Graham met the insured status requirements of the Act
since the date of her application-December 12, 2011. Although
she had worked after her application date, the job was
short-lived and did not constitute substantial gainful
employment. (ALJ Decision, Administrative Record (R.) 15,
Dkt. No. 8-1.) At step two, the ALJ found that Graham has
several “severe” impairments: degenerative disc
disease, affective disorder, and personality disorder. She
also had a history of abdominal pain/vomiting, history of
left shoulder pain, knee pain, and headaches, but the ALJ
found that they did not ...