Daughtridge v. Commissioner of Social Security
ORDER adopting 21 Memorandum and Recommendations; denying 15 Motion for Reversing the Decision of the SSA Commissioner, Law Judge and Every Preceding Appeals Officer; and granting 19 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. Signed by US District Judge Terrence W. Boyle on 6/30/2017. Certified copy sent via US Mail to pro se plaintiff at 4264 Leaston Rd., Rocky Mount, NC 27803. (Stouch, L.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
MARK EUGENE DAUGHTRIDGE,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,
Acting Commissioner ofSocial Security,
This matter is before the Court on the Memorandum and Recommendation ("M&R") of
United States Magistrate Judge Robert T. Numbers, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l)(C) and
Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). [DE 21]. For the following reasons, the Court adopts the M&R.
On December 7, 2009, plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits from the Social
Security Administration. In a determination dated January 25, 2010, plaintiff was found disabled
as of November 1, 2008. His disability was determined to have continued in a subsequent
determination dated August 26, 2011. On January 6, 2015, the Social Security Administration
found that plaintiff was no longer disabled as of January 7, 2015. This determination was upheld
upon reconsideration. Plaintiff then appeared before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ'') Miller
for a hearing to determine whether he was entitled to benefits. After the hearing, ALJ Miller
determined that plaintiff was not entitled to benefits because his previously-determined disability
ended on January 7, 2015. The decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the
Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request for review. Plaintiff then
sought timely review of the Commissioner's decision in this Court, which referred the matter to
Magistrate Judge Numbers for entry of an M&R under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). [DE 16].
On May 18, 2017, Magistrate Judge Numbers entered an M&R recommending that the
court deny plaintiffs motion, grant the Commissioner's motion, and affirm the ALJ's decision.
[DE 21]. Within the time allowed, plaintiff filed a written objection to the M&R. [DE 23].
A district court is required to review de nova those portions of an M&R to which a party
timely files specific objections or where there is plain error. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l); Thomas v.
Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149-50 (1985). "[I]n the absence of a timely filed objection, a district court
need not conduct de nova review, but instead must only satisfy itself that there is no clear error
on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation." Diamond v. Colonial Life &
Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F .3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation and citation omitted).
Despite plaintiff's awareness of his obligation to file written objections to the M&R,
plaintiff did not do so with any particularity and only made generalized objections that much of
the record evidence is unreliable and untrustworthy. The court need not conduct a de nova
review where a party makes only "general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court
to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations." Orpiano v.
Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982); Wells v. Shriners Hosp., 109 F.3d 198, 200-01 (4th
Cir. 1997). "Section 636(b)(l) does not countenance a form of generalized objection to cover all
issues addressed by the magistrate judge; it contemplates that a party's objection to a magistrate
judge's report be specific and particularized, as the statute directs the district court to review only
those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which
objection is made." United States v. Midgette, 478 F.3d 616, 621 (4th Cir. 2007).
Plaintiff objected first to the M&R by arguing generally that the ALJ erred by failing to
properly consider plaintiff's Veterans Affairs ("VA") disability rating or records. As a
foundational matter, an ALJ is not bound by a disability decision by another governmental
agency, such as the VA. SSR 06-03p. However, the Fourth Circuit has noted that "both the VA
and Social Security programs serve the same governmental purpose of providing benefits to
persons unable to work because of a serious disability" and, thus, "in making a disability
determination, the SSA must give substantial weight to a VA disability rating." Bird v. Comm 'r
ofSSA, 699, F.3d 337, 343 (4th Cir. 2012). The ALJ is relieved from this only when "the record
before the ALJ clearly demonstrates that such a deviation is appropriate." Id
Here, the ALJ gave the VA rating moderate weight and supported the reasoning behind
this deviation. As explained by Magistrate Judge Numbers, the VA rating was based primarily on
plaintiff's PTSD, which the ALJ found not to be a significant factor during the period in
question. The ALJ also explained that the VA rating did not determine plaintiffs overall
functional capacity, which the ALJ assessed independently after reviewing the record evidence.
It does not appear that plaintiff has any objection to these specific findings by the ALJ, see [DE
23], but rather argues that no other evidence in the record has the same depth of information as
the records and ratings from the VA. Plaintiff also objected to the ALJ's use of consultative
examination evidence, and alleged that such examinations utilized "substandard facilities and [a]
lack of professional standards." [DE 23]. The ALJ is not bound to any particular source of
evidence or credibility finding to the exclusion of others. Instead, an ALJ makes an RFC
assessment based on all of the relevant medical and other evidence. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a).
Additionally, the ALJ's opinion must "include a discussion of which evidence the ALJ found
credible and why, and specific application of the pertinent legal requirements to the record
evidence." Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Hines v. Bowen, 872
F.2d 56, 59 (4th Cir. 1989)). For the reasons given in the M&R, the ALJ satisfied these
requirements and sufficiently considered the record evidence and supported his findings as to the
proper weight to give each piece of evidence.
Plaintiff also argued in his written objections that the ALJ and the physicians cited in the
record engaged in a "blatant effort to misguide any appeal or judges [sic] decision," [DE 23], but
did not offer any credible support for this serious allegation. For example, the ALJ noted that
February, 2015 imaging tests of plaintiffs spine showed minimal degenerative changes with no
evidence of spinal canal stenosis. Tr. at 18. Plaintiff argues in his written objections that this test
was actually a basic plate X-Ray which cannot show spinal canal steiiosis. [DE 23]. Plaintiff
alleges that this is proof of an intentional effort by either the ALJ or physician to misguide his
appeal. Id. However, the record shows that this test, performed at the VA, was in fact an "MRI C
SPINE WITHOUT CONTRAST" test and did in fact show the results cited by the ALJ in
support of his decision. Tr. at 607. Plaintiffs allegations of impropriety on the part of the A:LJ or
consultative physicians are not credible and do not give this Court reason to overturn the M&R.
Having considered the M&R and record alongside plaintiffs objections, the Court is
satisfied that there is no error and accepts the Magistrate Judge's recommendation.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's M&R in its
entirety. [DE 21]. Accordingly, plaintiffs motion [DE 15] is DENIED and defendant's motion
for judgment on the pleadings [DE 19] is GRANTED. The decision of the Commissioner is
SO ORDERED, thi~ day of~ 2017.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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