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Rollins v. Berryhill

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

March 22, 2019

ROBERT PALMER ROLLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL. Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          M. Hannah Lauck United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Robert Palmer Rollins challenges the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying his claims for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). This matter comes before the Court on the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") prepared by the Honorable David J. Novak. United States Magistrate Judge, (ECF No. 19), addressing the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, (PL's Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 14; Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 16). The Magistrate Judge recommends that this Court deny Rollins's Motion for Summary Judgment, grant the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment, and uphold the final decision of the Commissioner. Rollins objects to the R&R ("Objection"). (PL's Obj. R&R. ECF No. 20.) The Commissioner responded in opposition. (Def.'s Resp., ECF No. 22.) The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).[1] The Court dispenses with oral argument, as it would not materially aid the decisional process.

         For the reasons articulated below, the Court will overrule Rollins's objection and adopt the R&R. Accordingly, the Court will deny Rollins's Motion for Summary Judgment, grant the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment, and affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         A. Rollins's Background and Medical History

         Rollins is a fifty-six-year-old high school graduate. (R. 43.) He worked as an electrician from 1981 until 2009. (R. 44-45. 229.) Rollins stopped working in 2009. (R. 44.) On September 25, 2013, Rollins applied for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning in 2012.[2](R. 70, 81, 94, 106.) He claims disability based on nerve damage in his right foot and Hepatitis C. (R. 220.) In addition, Rollins suffers from peripheral neuropathy in the right lower extremity. fibromyalgia, and obesity. (R. 22, 42.) According to Rollins, these severe impairments affect his daily life. (R. 238-39, 241.)

         B. Procedural History

         Rollins applied for DIB and SSI under the Social Security Act (the "Act"). (R. 70, 81.) At the time he filed those applications, Rollins alleged an onset date of disability of December 5. 2012. (Id.) The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied his claims and denied his later request for reconsideration. (R. 68-69, 92-93.) Rollins then requested that an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") review his case. The ALJ conducted a hearing and found against Rollins. (R. 20-32, 37-67.) The Appeals Council subsequently denied Rollins's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final determination of the Commissioner. (R. 4.)

         Rollins then sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision and this Court referred the matter to the Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).[3] Rollins filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's residual functional capacity ("RFC") finding and that, as a result, the RFC is a product of legal error. (PL's Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 1-2, 10-16, ECF No. 15; see also R&R 1.) The Commissioner filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. The Magistrate Judge considered the parties' cross-motions for summary judgement and issued an R&R. Rollins timely filed his Objection to the R&R in this Court, and the Commissioner properly responded. The Court addresses Rollins's Objection below.

         II. Standard of Review

         A. Appellate Standard of Review

         This Court reviews de novo any part of the Magistrate Judge's R&R to which a party has properly objected. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C);[4] Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).[5] In doing so, "[t]he district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

         Judicial review of a final decision regarding disability benefits requires that this Court '"uphold the factual findings of the [ALJ] if they are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standard.'" Hancock v. Aslrue, 667 F.3d 470. 472 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005)). ''Substantial evidence is 'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Brown v. Comm r Soc. Sec. Admin., 873 F.3d 251, 267 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001)). Substantial evidence requires "more than a mere scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance." Pearson v. Colvin, 810 F.3d 204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Hancock, 667 F.3d at 472).

         If substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision, or if the ALJ has made an error of law, the Court must reverse the decision. Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). "In reviewing for substantial evidence, [the court should not] undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner]." Mastro. 270 F.3d at 176 (quoting Craig v. ...


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