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Wright v. Colvin

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

October 15, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


MARY G. LEWIS, District Judge.

This is a Social Security appeal in which Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of Defendant denying Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Plaintiff is represented by excellent counsel. The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (Report) of the United States Magistrate Judge suggesting that Defendant's decision be affirmed. The Report was made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina.

The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objection is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

The Magistrate Judge filed the Report on August 18, 2014, Plaintiff filed her objections on September 5, 2014, and Defendant filed her reply on September 22, 2014. The Court has carefully considered the objections, but finds them to be without merit. Therefore, it will enter judgment accordingly.

Plaintiff contends that her disability commenced on September 30, 2007. The Administrate Law Judge (ALJ) denied her claim and the Appeals Council declined her request for review-thus making the ALJ's denial of the claim Defendant's final decision for purposes of judicial review. Plaintiff's claim for DIB and SSI is based on pain and other symptoms in her left leg. As noted above, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court affirm Defendant's final decision.

Many of the arguments that Plaintiff makes in her objections are the same ones that the Magistrate Judge has already considered and rejected. Because the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge's treatment of those issues, it need not repeat the analysis here. Thus, the Court will discuss only those objections in which Plaintiff specifically assigns error to a determination made by the Magistrate Judge. Most of these alleged errors concern instances when the Magistrate Judge cites the ALJ's finding with approval.

First, Plaintiff complains that "the Magistrate Judge notes that [Plaintiff] described the demands of her job as a housekeeper in a report of contact and in her hearing testimony. However, the ALJ did not reference those descriptions in her decision." Objections 3 (citation omitted). Thus, according to Plaintiff, "the ALJ erroneously concluded that [Plaintiff] could perform her past relevant work as it was actually performed without any discussion of how the job was performed." Id.

According to SS 82-62, "[t]he [Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)] to meet the physical and mental demands of jobs a claimant has performed in the past (either the specific job a claimant performed or the same kind of work as it is customarily performed throughout the economy) is generally a sufficient basis for a finding of not disabled.'" So, although Plaintiff complains that she was unable to perform her past relevant work as she actually performed it, the ALJ's conclusion that she was not disabled was not based on that. Instead, the ALJ based her decision that Plaintiff was not disabled on her finding that Plaintiff could perform her past work as it is customarily performed throughout the economy. And, it was appropriate for the ALJ to rely on the Vocational Expert's testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles to make this determination. Therefore, how Plaintiff actually performed her job is of no moment and the ALJ did not need to discuss it in her decision. As such, the Court will overrule this objection.

Second, Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's finding "that the ALJ properly fulfilled the first requirement of SSR 82-62 by finding [Plaintiff] had the RFC to perform less than the full range of light work with additional postural limitations." Objections 3 (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). More specifically, according to Plaintiff, "Dr. [Joseph] Gonzales, a state agency medical consultant[, ]... found credible [Plaintiff's] allegations regarding being able to walk 30 minutes before pain would cause her to need to stop." Objections 3 (citation omitted). But that is not exactly what Dr. Gonzales stated. What Dr. Gonzales actually wrote is that "[s]ymptoms of can walk 30 minutes before pain begins is credible...., [household] chores, walks to grocery store[, ] appears capable of sustaining light work." Transcript 320. There is no mention that Plaintiff would be required to stop walking after thirty minutes. Therefore, because Dr. Gonzales did not suggest the limitation that Plaintiff maintains that he did, the Court will overrule this objection, as well.

Third, Plaintiff takes issue with the Magistrate Judge's determination that the ALJ properly evaluated her credibility. This objection is comprised of four subparts. First, according to Plaintiff, the ALJ erred when she stated that there was no evidence that Plaintiff sought any low cost or no cost medical services that may have provided treatment and medications for her condition. Objections 6. Second, Plaintiff avers that the ALJ erred in finding that Plaintiff's "daily activities were inconsistent with disabling limitations considering that disabling' in this case means an inability to return to past relevant work." Id. 8. Third, Plaintiff avows that the ALJ improperly "cited [Plaintiff's] receipt of unemployment benefits as a reason to find her less than credible when that was not a bar to a favorable ruling." Id. And fourth, Plaintiff maintains that, "Despite these errors, the Magistrate Judge finds the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence [even though] the Magistrate Judge does not indicate specifically what evidence supports the decision." Id. at 9. The Court will consider each of these subparts of Plaintiff's third objection in turn.

Regarding Plaintiff's assertion that the ALJ erred in her assertion that Plaintiff failed to take advantage of any low cost or no cost medical services for her condition, here is the ALJ's statement in context:

Despite complaints of allegedly disabling symptoms beginning in September 2007, the record revealed no treatment for [Plaintiff's] alleged musculoskeletal impairment prior to May 2008, when she... complained of left keen pain and swelling from a fall at work two months earlier.

Moreover, there is no evidence of treatment for [Plaintiff's] knee condition beyond January 2009. Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512 and § 416.912, it is [Plaintiff's] responsibility to provide medical evidence showing that she has an impairment and the severity of that impairment during the time she alleges that she is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508 and § 416.908 provide[] that a physical or mental impairment must be established by medical evidence consisting of signs and laboratory findings and not only by [Plaintiff's] statement of symptoms. While [Plaintiff] alleged she only takes over-the-counter pain medication and is not being treated because she has no income or health insurance, there are agencies, such as the county health ...

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