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Barefoot v. Berryhill

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

April 23, 2018

RAYMOND DENNIS BAREFOOT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          FINAL ORDER

          Arenda L. Wright Allen . United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Raymond Barefoot brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Acting Social Security Commissioner ("the Commissioner") to deny his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(B) and (C), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), and the Local Rules, this matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation ("R&R"). ECF No. 10.

         In the R&R filed on February 22, 2018, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the decision by the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") to deny Mr. Barefoot's claim was supported by substantial evidence. ECFNo. 16. The Magistrate Judge recommended denying Mr. Barefoot's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 12) and granting the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14), and affirming the decision of the Commissioner. ECF No. 16 at 23.

         By copy of the Report, each party was advised of the right to file written objections to the finds and recommendations made by the Magistrate Judge. Id. On March 5, 2018, the Court received Plaintiffs objections to the Magistrate Judge's R&R. ECF No. 17. On March 14, 2018, the Court received the Commissioner's response to Plaintiffs objections. ECF No. 18. The matter is now ripe for disposition.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(3), the Court reviews de novo any part of a magistrate judge's recommendation to which a party has properly objected. See also Wimmer v. Cook, 774 F.2d 68, 73 (4th Cir. 1985) C'[A]ny individual findings of fact or recommendations for disposition by [the magistrate judge], if objected to, are subject to final de novo determination ... by a district judge ....").

         A court reviewing a decision made in accordance with 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. Chafer, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Accordingly, if the Commissioner's denial of benefits is supported by substantial evidence and was reached by applying the correct legal standard, the Court must affirm the Commissioner's final decision. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).

         "Substantial evidence" is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; [i]t consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Craig, 16 F.3d at 589 (citations omitted). In reviewing for substantial evidence, this Court does not reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Id. The Commissioner's findings as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive and must be affirmed. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971).

         11. BACKGROUND

         As recounted in the R&R, Mr. Barefoot initially filed an application for DIB on January 11, 2013, alleging disability as of September 29, 2012 due to an injury to his left foot and the subsequent amputation of his left leg below the knee. ECF No. 16 at 2; R. at 156-57, 168, 171. After the agency denied his initial application and his application on reconsideration, the ALJ found that Mr. Barefoot was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, between September 29, 2012 and March 31, 2013, the period of the alleged disability. Accordingly, the ALJ denied his claim for benefits. The Appeals Council then denied Mr. Barefoot's request for review on December 14, 2016. ECF No. 16 at 2.

         In denying Mr. Barefoot's application, the ALJ made the following determinations, as required by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920: (1) that Mr. Barefoot had not engaged in substantial gainful activity between the alleged onset date and the date that he was last insured, the period of the alleged disability; (2) that Mr. Barefoot suffered from a left knee amputation, which was a severe impairment; (3) that the evidence failed to demonstrate that Mr. Barefoot had an impairment or combination of impairments that equaled one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) that Mr. Barefoot was unable to perform past relevant work due to the severe impairment; but that (5) work suitable for Mr. Barefoot's residual functional capacity existed in significant numbers in the national economy. See Id. at 12. After the Appeals Council denied Mr. Barefoot's request for review, Mr. Barefoot filed the instant Complaint for judicial review of the Commissioner's decision, which was then referred to the Magistrate Judge. See ECF Nos. 1, 10. As discussed above, the Magistrate Judge's R&R recommended that Mr. Barefoot's Motion for Summary Judgment be denied, that the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted, and that the final decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. See ECF No. 16 at 23.

         Mr. Barefoot presents three objections to the R&R and the Magistrate Judge's findings: (1) that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate Mr. Barefoot's impairments and that, accordingly, the ALJ's Step Three analysis, which concluded that the evidence failed to demonstrate that Mr. Barefoot had a qualifying impairment, was not supported by substantial analysis; (2) that the ALJ improperly assessed the opinion of Mr. Barefoot's treating orthopedic specialist; and (3) that the ALJ's decision to discount Mr. Barefoot's testimony was not supported by substantial evidence. ECF No. 17 at 1, 4, 7.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. The ALJ's ...


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