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Goins v. Berryhill

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

March 28, 2019

VICKI J. GOINS, 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's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 14], grant the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 18], and affirm the Commissioner's decision. The R&R was filed on August 31, 2018 [ECF No. 22], and Plaintiff filed her objections on September 14 [ECF No. 23]. The Commissioner responded [ECF No. 24], 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 December 30, 2015, Plaintiff Vicki J. Goins (“Plaintiff”) filed an application for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), and supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI of the Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33; 1381- 1383f (2018). (See R. 63-75.) In her applications, Plaintiff alleged that she had been disabled since May 1, 2013, due to a combination of migraines, high blood pressure, idiopathic peripheral neuropathy, osteoarthritis, atrial fibrillation, anxiety, depression, and acid reflux. (Id.) The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims initially on March 16, 2016 (R. 68, 75), and again upon reconsideration on April 12, 2016. (See R. 87, 101.)

         Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge and on October 4, 2016, Plaintiff appeared with her attorney before Administrative Law Judge Brian P. Kilbane (“the ALJ”). (R. 37-70.) Both Plaintiff and a vocational expert, James Ginard, testified. (Id.) In a written decision dated November 28, 2016, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (See generally R. 21-36.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from a “history of congestive heart failure, status-post pacemaker placement, hypertension, peripheral neuropathy, and chronic atrial fibrillation, ” which qualified as severe impairments. (R. 22-26 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) & 416.920(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. 26 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, & 416.926).)

         After consideration of the entire Record, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) & 416.967(b), except that she could

occasionally climb ramps and stairs, never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, frequently balance, occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, and should avoid concentrated exposure to vibration, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation, as well as workplace hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery.

         (R. 27.) The ALJ concluded that, based on his determination of her RFC, Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a cosmetologist. (R. 34-36 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565 & 416.965.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (R. 36.) 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 March 29, 2017. (Id.)

         On May 22, 2017, Plaintiff filed suit in this Court to challenge the final decision of the Commissioner. (Compl. [ECF No. 2].) Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), I referred the case to the United States Magistrate Judge for consideration. On December 6, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 14]. The Commissioner filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on February 5, 2018 [ECF No. 18]. On August 31, Judge Hoppe filed a 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, Aug. 31, 2018 [ECF No. 22].) On September 14, Plaintiff filed timely objections to the R&R. (Pl.'s Obj., Sept. 14, 2018 [ECF No. 23].) The Commissioner responded on September 25 [ECF No. 24], 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 may 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 has lodged two objections: first, the Magistrate Judge erred in concluding that the ALJ considered Plaintiff's credibility regarding the limiting effects of her conditions; and second, the Magistrate Judge erred in concluding that the ALJ properly considered the ...


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