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Martin v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division

September 26, 2014

RONALD J. MARTIN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


DAVID C. NORTON, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on Magistrate Judge Shiva V. Hodges's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") that this court affirm Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin's decision denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). Plaintiff filed objections to the R&R. For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the R&R and affirms the Commissioner's decision.


Unless otherwise noted, the following background is drawn from the R&R.

A. Procedural History

Plaintiff Ronald J. Martin ("Martin") filed an application for DIB on August 27, 2003, alleging disability beginning on January 14, 2004.[2] The Social Security Agency denied Martin's claim initially and on reconsideration. Martin requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), and ALJ Debra Morriss held a hearing on February 14, 2006. The ALJ issued a decision on November 14, 2006, finding Martin not disabled under the Social Security Act. Martin requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council granted Martin's request for review, vacated the ALJ's decision, and remanded the matter to the ALJ. On March 13, 2009, ALJ Richard L. Vogel held a hearing. The ALJ issued a decision on November 20, 2009, finding Martin not disabled under the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied Martin's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. On November 17, 2010, Martin filed an action in federal court. Following an R&R, the court reversed the Commissioner's decision and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. Martin v. Astrue, No. 1:10-cv-2984, 2011 WL 6115032 (D.S.C. Dec. 7, 2011). ALJ Vogel held another hearing on August 17, 2012 and issued a decision on September 6, 2012, finding Martin not disabled under the Social Security Act.

On December 31, 2012, Martin filed this action seeking review of the ALJ's decision. The magistrate judge issued an R&R on June 9, 2014, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ's decision. Martin filed objections to the R&R on June 26, 2014. The Commissioner did not respond to Martin's objections. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.

B. Medical History

Because Martin's medical history is not relevant to the disposition of this case, the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and instead only notes a few relevant facts. Martin was born on August 1, 1964 and was 39 years old on the alleged onset date. He earned a graduate equivalency diploma and has past relevant work experience as a laborer and a painter.

C. ALJ's Decision

The ALJ employed the statutorily-required five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether Martin was disabled from January 14, 2004 through December 31, 2004, Martin's date last insured. The ALJ first determined that Martin did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the relevant time period. Tr. 730. At the second step, the ALJ found that Martin suffered from the following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease, migraine headaches, hypertension, depression, and anxiety. Id . At step three, the ALJ determined that Martin's impairments or combination of impairments did not meet or equal one of the listed impairments in the Agency's Listing of Impairments. Tr. 731; see 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Martin had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work, as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a). Tr. 733. The ALJ determined that Martin could lift and carry no more than ten pounds at a time and occasionally lift and carry articles such as docket files, ledgers, and small tools; could sit for six hours and stand or walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday; could not climb or crawl; could occasionally crouch and stoop; and could not be exposed to industrial hazards. Id . The ALJ further found that Martin was limited to working in a low stress setting with no more than occasional decision-making or changes in the work setting, no interaction with the general public, and only occasional interaction with co-workers and supervisors. Id . The ALJ found, at step four, that Martin was unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 739. Finally, at the fifth step, the ALJ found that considering Martin's age, education, work experience, and RFC, he could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, and therefore concluded that he was not disabled during the period at issue. Tr. 740.


This court is charged with conducting a de novo review of any portion of the magistrate judge's R&R to which specific, written objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). A party's failure to object is accepted as agreement with the conclusions of the magistrate judge. See Thomas v. Arn , 474 U.S. 140, 149-50 (1985). The recommendation of the magistrate judge carries no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination rests with this court. Mathews v. Weber , 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976).

Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision regarding disability benefits "is limited to determining whether the findings of the [Commissioner] are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied." Hays v. Sullivan , 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Id . (internal citations omitted). "[I]t is not within the province of a reviewing court to determine the weight of the evidence, nor is it the court's function to substitute its judgment for that of the [Commissioner] if his decision is supported by substantial evidence." Id . Where conflicting evidence "allows reasonable minds to differ as to ...

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