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Holcomb v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

March 27, 2015

Gordon Simmons Holcomb, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ORDER AND OPINION

J. MICHELLE CHILDS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Gordon Simmons Holcomb ("Plaintiff") filed this action seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (ECF No. 1.)

This matter is before the court for review of the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn D. Austin, issued in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a) D.S.C. (ECF No. 13.) On February 2, 2015, the Magistrate Judge recommended affirming the Commissioner's final decision denying Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). (Id. at 34.) Plaintiff timely filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, which are currently before the court. (ECF No. 15.) For the reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS IN PART AND REJECTS IN PART the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and REVERSES the final decision of the Commissioner denying Plaintiff's claim for DIB and SSI pursuant to sentence four (4) of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and REMANDS the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The relevant factual and procedural background of this matter is discussed in the Report and Recommendation. (See ECF No. 13.) The court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Magistrate Judge's factual and proce dural summation is accurate and incorporates it by reference. The court will only reference herein facts pertinent to the analysis of Plaintiff's claims.

Plaintiff was born on November 8, 1958 and is presently fifty-six (56) years old. (ECF No. 7-5 at 2.) He filed applications for DIB and SSI on January 13, 2011, alleging disability since December 19, 2010, due to knee pain, back pain, and a broken right arm. (Id. at 2, 6; see also ECF No. 7-6 at 7.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially on April 7, 2011, and upon reconsideration on August 2, 2011. (ECF No. 7-4 at 3, 13, 16.) As a result, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on September 21, 2011. (Id. at 19, 28.) On October 4, 2012, Plaintiff had a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), who found on November 6, 2012, that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined by the Social Security Act ("SSA") because he had "the residual functional capacity to perform light work" and such jobs "exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform." (ECF No. 7-2 at 31, 36.) Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 31, 2013, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. (Id. at 7.)

Subsequently, on July 29, 2013, Plaintiff commenced an action in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying Plaintiff's claim for DIB and SSI. (ECF No. 1.) On February 2, 2015, the Magistrate Judge issued her recommendation that the Commissioner's final decision denying Plaintiff's claim for DIB and SSI be affirmed. (ECF No. 13.) Plaintiff filed timely Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation on February 11, 2015. (ECF No. 15.) The Commissioner filed a Response to Plaintiff's Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation on March 2, 2015. (ECF No. 16.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A. The Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

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 this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court reviews de novo only those portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which specific objections are filed, and reviews those portions which are not objected to - including those portions to which only "general and conclusory" objections have been made - for clear error. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005); Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983); Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the magistrate judge or recommit the matter with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

B. Judicial Review of the Commissioner

The role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme established by the Social Security Act is a limited one. Section 405(g) of the Act provides, "the findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive...." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence has been defined innumerable times as more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964). This standard precludes a de novo review of the factual circumstances that substitutes the court's findings for those of the Commissioner. See Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971). The court must uphold the Commissioner's decision as long as it is supported by substantial evidence. See Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). "From this it does not follow, however, that the findings of the administrative agency are to be mechanically accepted." Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278, 279 (4th Cir. 1969). "The statutorily granted right of review contemplates more than an uncritical rubber stamping of the administrative agency." Id . "[T]he courts must not abdicate their responsibility to give careful scrutiny to the whole record to assure that there is a sound foundation for the [Commissioner's] findings, and that this conclusion is rational." Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.

III. ANALYSIS

A. The Magistrate ...


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