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Collier v. Colvin

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

March 30, 2015

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


DAVID C. NORTON, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant's Report and Recommendation ("R&R) that the court affirm Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin's decision denying plaintiff Karen Marie Collier's ("Collier") application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). Collier has 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

Collier filed an application for DIB on July 5, 2011, alleging that she had been disabled since July 2, 2010. The Social Security Administration ("the Agency") denied Collier's application both initially and on reconsideration. Collier requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") and ALJ Augustus C. Martin presided over a hearing held on August 8, 2012. In a decision issued on August 30, 2012, the ALJ determined that Collier was not disabled. This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied further review on October 17, 2013.

On November 27, 2013, Collier filed this action for judicial review. On November 6, 2014, the magistrate judge issued an R&R, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ's decision. Collier objected to the R&R on November 24, 2014, and the Commissioner responded to Collier's objections on December 10, 2014. This matter has been fully briefed and is now ripe for the court's review.

B. Collier's Medical History

Because a comprehensive description of Collier's medical history is not particularly helpful to the resolution of this case, the court recites only a few relevant facts. Collier was fifty-nine years old on the alleged onset date. She has a high school education and past relevant work experience as a field service assistant and mechanical engineering assistant. In her application, Collier alleged disability due to heart impairments including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, ventricular tachycardia; implanted pacemaker/defilibrator with one-hundred percent pacemaker dependency; severe migrane headaches; and sleep apnea.

C. ALJ's Decision

The Social Security Act defines "disability" as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505. The Social Security regulations establish a fivestep sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Under this process, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant: (1) is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment which equals an impairment contained in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, which warrants a finding of disability without considering vocational factors; (4) if not, whether the claimant has an impairment which prevents him from performing past relevant work; and (5) if so, whether the claimant is able to perform other work considering both his remaining physical and mental capacities (defined by his residual functional capacity ("RFC")) and his vocational capabilities (age, education, and past work experience) to adjust to a new job. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264-65 (4th Cir. 1981). The applicant bears the burden of proof during the first four steps of the inquiry, while the burden shifts to the Commissioner for the final step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995) (citing Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 35 (4th Cir. 1992)).

At the first and second steps of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Collier had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from July 2, 2010 through December 31, 2015, her date last insured, and that Collier suffers from the following severe impairments: coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, hypertension, and obesity. Tr. 33. At the third step, the ALJ determined that Collier's impairments or combination thereof did not meet or equal the criteria of an impairment listed in the Agency's Listing of Impairments. Tr. 35. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Collier retained the RFC to perform "less than a full range of light work" with several restrictions. Tr. 36. Specifically, the ALJ stated that Collier could not climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and should "avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures and... avoid all exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights or dangerous, moving machinery." Id . At step four, the ALJ found that Collier was able to perform past relevant work as a field service assistant and a mechanical engineering assistant. Tr. 39. Finally, at the fifth step, the ALJ found that Collier was not disabled during the period at issue. Id.


The 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). The court is not required to review the factual findings and legal conclusions of the magistrate judge to which the parties have not objected. See id. The recommendation of the magistrate judge carries no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the 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 ...

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