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Norman v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Danville Division

November 8, 2018

KYMBER L. NORMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JACKSON L. KISER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before me is the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) of the United States Magistrate Judge recommending that I deny Plaintiff Kymber Norman's (“Plaintiff”) Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 13], grant the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 15], and affirm the Commissioner's decision. The R&R was filed on July 16, 2018 [ECF No. 19], and Plaintiff filed objections on July 30 [ECF No. 20]. The Commissioner responded [ECF No. 21], and the matter is now ripe for review. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). After careful review and consideration, and for the reasons stated below, I will overrule Plaintiff's objections and grant the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33 (2018). (See R. 150-151.) In her application, Plaintiff alleged that she had been disabled since May 1, 2011, due to a combination of: headaches; severe fatigue; thyroid problems; pain and spasms in her neck radiating into her left arm; numbness and tingling in her left arm and hand; low back pain radiating into her right leg and foot; numbness in her right leg; carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms post status release; ringing in her left ear; depression and anxiety; neck and back pain; and carpal tunnel syndrome. (See, e.g., R. 58-59.) The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims initially on March 25, 2014, and again upon reconsideration on July 8, 2014. (See R. 58-76.)

         Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge and on November 23, 2015, Plaintiff appeared with her attorney before Administrative Law Judge Mary Peltzer (“the ALJ”). (R. 28-56.) Both Plaintiff and a vocational expert, Dr. Robert Jackson, testified. (Id.) In a written decision dated January 21, 2016, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (See generally R. 13-23.) She found that Plaintiff suffered from “post-operative lumbar and cervical spine disorders, to include degenerative disc/joint disease and stenosis, ” which qualified as severe impairments. (R. 15-16 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c)).) The ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination or impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 16 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, & 404.1526).)

         After consideration of the entire Record, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) with some limitations. (See R. 16-22.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was additionally limited to:

occasional stairs and ramps; no ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching and no crawling; no reaching overhead (above the shoulders); frequent handling, fingering; no more than occasional exposure to extreme cold, vibration and workplace hazards such as dangerous moving machinery but no exposure to unprotected heights; tasks performed in a static work environment where changes in tasks are infrequent and explained when they do occur.

         (R. 17.) The ALJ concluded that, although Plaintiff was not capable of performing her past relevant work, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform, such as short inspector grader and packer. (R. 22-23 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569 & 404.1569(a)).) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (R. 23.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (R. 1-3), and the decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner on February 7, 2017. (Id.)

         On April 3, 2017, Plaintiff filed suit in this Court to challenge the final decision of the Commissioner. (Compl. [ECF No. 1].) Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), I referred the case to the United States Magistrate Judge for consideration. Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on October 20, 2017 [ECF No. 13], and the Commissioner filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on November 15 [ECF No. 15]. On July 16, 2018, Judge Hoppe filed his Report and Recommendation (“R&R”), recommending that I deny Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment, and affirm the decision of the Commissioner. (R&R, July 16, 2018 [ECF No. 19].) On July 30, Plaintiff filed her objections to the R&R. (Pl.'s Obj., July 30, 2018 [ECF No. 20].) The Commissioner responded on August 8 [ECF No. 21], so the matter is now ripe for review.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Congress has limited the judicial review I may exercise over decisions of the Social Security Commissioner. I am required to uphold the decision where: (1) the Commissioner's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Commissioner applied the proper legal standard. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2014); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). The Fourth Circuit has long defined substantial evidence as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). In other words, the substantial evidence standard is satisfied by producing more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance of the evidence. Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966).

         The Commissioner is charged with evaluating the medical evidence and assessing symptoms, signs, and findings to determine the functional capacity of the claimant. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527-404.1545 (2014); see Shively v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 990 (4th Cir. 1984) (noting that it is the role of the ALJ, not the vocational expert, to determine disability). The Regulations grant the Commissioner latitude in resolving factual inconsistencies that may arise during the evaluation of the evidence. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527, 416.927 (2014). Unless the decision lacks substantial evidence to support it, the ultimate determination of whether a claimant is disabled is for the ALJ and the Commissioner. See id. §§ 404.1527(e), 416.927(e); Walker v. Bowen, 834 F.2d 635, 640 (7th Cir. 1987). If the ALJ's resolution of the conflicts in the evidence is supported by substantial evidence, then I must affirm the Commissioner's final decision. Laws, 368 F.2d at 642. In reviewing the evidence, I must not “undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [my] judgment for that of the Secretary, ” Mastro, 270 F.3d at 176 (quoting Craig, 76 F.3d at 589), or the secretary's designate, the ALJ, Craig, 76 F.3d at 589 (quoting Walker, 834 F.2d at 640).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff's objections fail for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Plaintiff has more or less objected to every sentence of the R&R. As explained in prior decisions, Plaintiff's general objection, which is no more than ...


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