United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
COKE MORGAN, JR SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation
of the United States Magistrate Judge DENYING Plaintiff Karla
Laverne Seals' ("Plaintiffs" or
"Seals'") Motion for Summary Judgment and
GRANTING Commissioner Nancy Berryhill's
"Commissioner's") Motion for Summary Judgment.
Doc. 20. For the reasons stated herein, the Court
OVERRULES Plaintiffs Objections to the
Report, Doc. 21, and ADOPTS the Report and
Recommendation in full.
brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to challenge
the Commissioner's denial of her claim for disability
insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social
Security Act. Seals filed applications for benefits on August
12 and September 6, 2013, alleging that she became disabled
on August 13, 2013, due to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
("AIDS"), hepatitis C, herpes, depression, and
anxiety. Report and Recommendation ("Report") at
1-2. The state agency denied these claims. Id. An
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") heard the matter
on October 11, 2016, and issued an opinion denying the claims
on January 10, 2017. Id. at 2. The Appeals Council
denied Seals' request for review of the ALJ's
decision on November 17, 2017. Id.
filed a complaint with this Court on January 29, 2018, Doc.
3, and filed her Motion for Summary Judgment on June 11,
2018, Doc. 16. The Commissioner filed a cross-Motion for
Summary Judgment on July 11, 2018, Doc. 17. This matter was
referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and
Recommendation on May 2, 2018. Doc. 9.
Magistrate Judge reviewed the motions and issued the instant
Report and Recommendation on December 19, 2018. Doc. 20.
Plaintiff timely filed her objections to the Report on
January 2, 2019, Doc. 21, and the Commissioner filed her
response on January 16, 2019, Doc. 22.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court reviews de
novo any part of a Magistrate Judge's
recommendation to which a party has properly objected.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The Court may then "accept,
reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive
further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate
judge with instructions." Id. The Court reviews
those parts of a Magistrate Judge's recommendation to
which a party has not objected for clear error. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72; see also Diamond v.
Colonial Life & Ace. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315-16
(4th Cir. 2005).
exercising de novo review of the parts of a
Magistrate Judge's recommendation to which a party has
properly objected, the Court analyzes the Commissioner's
final decision using the same standard as that used by the
Magistrate Judge. Specifically, the Court's review of the
Commissioner's decision is limited to determining whether
that decision was supported by substantial evidence on the
record and whether the proper legal standard was applied in
evaluating the evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Johnson
v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per
curiam). Substantial evidence is defined as "such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to
support a conclusion." Id. (quoting Craig
v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996)) (internal
quotation mark omitted). Courts have further explained that
substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of
evidence, but more than a mere scintilla of evidence.
Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir.
1966). Importantly, in reviewing the ALJ's decision the
Court does not "reweigh conflicting evidence, make
credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for
that of the [ALJ]." Id. (quoting
Craig, 76 F.3d at 589) (internal quotation mark
omitted) (final alteration in original). Even if "the
evidence will permit a conclusion inconsistent with that of
the Commissioner," the Court must uphold the ALJ's
decision if it is supported by substantial evidence and the
ultimate conclusions are legally correct. See Thomas v.
Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964); Myers
v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982 (4th Cir. 1980).
Report describes the relevant facts in detail, and neither
party objects to the Report's account of the
facts. Accordingly, the Court need not reiterate
the factual background, except where relevant to its
is a five-step process for assessing a claim for disability
insurance benefits. An ALJ must determine: (1) a
claimant's current employment status; (2) the medical
severity of a claimant's impairments; (3) the
classification of a claimant's medical impairment; (4) a
claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC")
and ability to perform past relevant work; and (5) a
claimant's ability to adjust to other work. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920; see also Brown v. Comm'r Social Sec.
Admin., 873 F.3d 251, 254-55 (4th Cir. 2017).
analyzing a claimant's RFC at step four, a Court must
consider the objective medical evidence in the record,
including the medical opinions of treating providers.
Felton-Miller v. Astrue, 459 Fed.Appx. 226, 231 (4th
Cir. 2011). In cases filed before March 27, 2017,
"controlling weight must be accorded to a treating
source's medical opinion," because those sources
"are likely to be the medical professionals most able to
provide a detailed, longitudinal picture of [one's]
medical impairment(s) and may bring a unique perspective to
the medical evidence that cannot be obtained from the
objective medical findings alone or from reports of
individual examinations." Brown, 873 F.3d at
256 (citing 20 C.F.R. §404.1527(c)(2)) (internal
quotations omitted). If an ALJ does not afford controlling
weight to a treating physician, she must articulate
"good reasons" for the weight assigned to the
opinion and address the following factors: (1) the length of
a treatment relationship; (2) the nature and extent of a
treatment relationship; (3) the degree of supporting
explanations for their opinions; (4) consistency with the
record; and (5) the specialization of the physician.
Jefferson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No.
CIV.A.4:08CV40, 2009 WL 1491229, at *9 (E.D. Va. May 26,