United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
HANNAH LAUCK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Kimberly Triplett challenges the decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration (the
"Commissioner") denying her claims for Supplemental
Security Income after finding she lacked disability. 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. 18), 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 Triplett's Motion for Summary Judgment,
grant the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment, and
uphold the final decision of the Commissioner. Triplett
objects to the R&R (the -'Objection"). (Pl.s
Obj. R&R, ECF No. 19.) The Commissioner responded to
Triplett's Objection. (Def.'s Resp., ECF No. 20.) The
Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
reasons articulated below, the Court will overrule
Triplett's Objection and adopt the R&R. Accordingly,
the Court will deny Triplett's Motion for Summary
Judgment, grant the Commissioner's Motion for Summary
Judgment, and affirm the Commissioner's decision.
instant case involves Triplett's claim for Social
Security Disability Benefits under the Social Security Act,
alleging disability from fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue
syndrome. On January 18, 2018, an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") issued a written opinion finding that
Triplett did not suffer from severe impairments, meaning that
she did not qualify for disability benefits. (R. 15-22.)
After the Appeals Council denied Triplett's
administrative appeal, she sought review in this Court.
Objection, Triplett asserts that the ALJ and the Magistrate
Judge erred because they improperly classified Triplett's
medically determinable impairments as non-severe. (Pl.'s
Obj. 2, ECF No. 19.) Triplett contends that, because of that
conclusion, the ALJ prematurely stopped the five-step review
process at the second step of the required sequence and
thereby incorrectly rejected her claim. (Id.)
Triplett asks this Court to reverse the ALJ's decision
because the "bar for considering an impairment severe is
low," and to remand the case for further proceedings.
(Id. at 3-4.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Appellate Standard of Review
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); Fed.R.Civ.P.
72(b)(3). 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.
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. Astrue, 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 V 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).
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. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir.
1996), superseded by regulation on other grounds, 20
C.F.R. § 416.927(d)(2)).
Determining Eligibility for Benefits
this case involves a decision determining eligibility for
benefits, the Court reviews "whether the ALJ's
finding ... was reached based upon the correct application of
the relevant law." Craig, 76 F.3d at 589
(citing Coffman, 829 F.2d at 517). The
"[determination of eligibility for social security
benefits involves a five-step inquiry.'* Walls v.
Barnhart, 296 F.3d 287, 290 (4th Cir. 2002);
see 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4), 404.1520.
one, the "ALJ asks ... whether the claimant has been
working; at step two, whether the claimant's medical
impairments meet the regulations' severity and duration
requirements." Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632,
634 (4th Cir. 2015). The second step of the five-step
sequential analysis, which Triplett challenges here, requires
that the factfinder decide whether the claimant suffers from
a "severe" impairment, irrespective of age,
education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(c) & 416.920(c). The Commissioner has issued
regulations that define the scope of the term "severe
If you do not have any impairment or combination of
impairments which significantly limits your physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities, we will find that
you do not have a severe ...