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Woods v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

March 29, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.


          Max O. Cogburn Jr. United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the court on review of a Memorandum and Recommendation (“M&R”) issued in this matter (#18). In the M&R, the magistrate judge advised the parties of the right to file objections within 14 days, all in accordance with 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1)(c). Objections have been filed within the time allowed. See Pl. Objections (#19).

         The Federal Magistrates Act of 1979, as amended, provides that “a district court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specific proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir.1983). However, “when objections to strictly legal issues are raised and no factual issues are challenged, de novo review of the record may be dispensed with.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir.1982). Similarly, de novo review is not required by the statute “when a party makes general or conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations.” Id. Moreover, the statute does not on its face require any review at all of issues that are not the subject of an objection. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985); Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d at 200. Nonetheless, a district judge is responsible for the final determination and outcome of the case, and accordingly the court has conducted a careful review of the magistrate judge's recommendation.


         I. Background

         In the M&R in this case, Magistrate Judge Dennis Howell analyzed the available record, including the disability decision from the State of North Carolina and the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (#18). Ultimately, Magistrate Judge Howell recommended that the court dismiss the suit and grant the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (#16).

         The plaintiff has filed objections to the magistrate judge's M&R. Pl. Objections (#19). Plaintiff's first objection is it was error for the ALJ to not appropriately explain the consideration given to the State of North Carolina's Medicaid disability determination. The plaintiff's second objection concerns the ALJ's function-by-function assessment and resulting Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) finding. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not adequately build “an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion.” Pl. Objections (#19) at 4 (citing Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 189-90 (4th Cir. 2016)).

         II. Discussion

         A. First Objection

         With regard to plaintiff's first objection, the plaintiff argues that Social Security regulations and policies require that an ALJ must explain the consideration they give to other governmental disability determinations. In support of plaintiff's argument, plaintiff cites to Rule 06-03p, [1] which notes:

Because the ultimate responsibility for determining whether an individual is disabled under Social Security law rests with the Commissioner, we are not bound by disability decisions by other governmental and nongovernmental agencies. In addition, because other agencies may apply different rules and standards than we do for determining whether an individual is disabled, this may limit the relevance of a determination of disability made by another agency. However, the adjudicator should explain the consideration given to these decisions in the notice of decision for hearing cases and in the case record for initial and reconsideration cases.

Titles II & Xvi: Considering Opinions & Other Evidence from Sources Who Are Not "Acceptable Med. Sources" in Disability Claims; Considering Decisions on Disability by Other Governmental & Nongovernmental, SSR 06-03p (S.S.A. Aug. 9, 2006) (emphasis added).

         In further support, plaintiff cites a series of cases from the Eastern District of North Carolina, which tend to require additional articulation of reasons for dismissing the determinations of other governmental entities. See Baughman v. Colvin, No. 5:13-CV-143-FL, 2014 WL 3345030 (E.D. N.C., July 8, 2014); Bridgeman v. Astrue, No. 4:07-cv-81-D, 2008 WL 1803619 (E.D. N.C., Apr. 21, 2008). These courts have determined that SSR 06-03p demanded that an ALJ provide more than a “cursory discussion” and that simply stating that the other governmental determination was non-binding was “insufficient” and failed to “provide sufficient articulation for [their] reasons for [dismissing the Medicaid decision] so to allow for a meaningful review by the courts.” Baughman, 2014 WL 3345030 at *8.

         While the decisions of this court's colleagues in the Eastern District can be persuasive, the court's colleagues in this district have found the requirements of SSR 06-03p met where the ALJ notes that other governmental determinations have been considered, but assigned little weight. See, e.g. Gabriel v. Colvin, No. 1:14-cv-270, 2015 WL 45915591 (W.D. N.C. July 29, 2015); Fraley v. Colvin, No. 3:14-cv-192, 2015 WL 50007826 (W.D. N.C. Aug. 20, 2015); Oglesby v. Colvin, No. 5:15-cv-23, 2016 WL 4445773 (W.D. N.C. Jun. 9, 2016); Lindsay v. Colvin, No. 1:15-cv-13, 2016 WL 3519891 (W.D. N.C. Mar. 25, 2016). Review of the ALJ's decision here reveals the state Medicaid determination was taken into account, but was assigned little weight in the ALJ's determination. ALJ Decision (#8-3) at 30. The ALJ went one step further, explaining in a paragraph that the state process for Medicaid eligibility was separate and distinct from the SSA ...

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