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Adams v. Colvin

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

August 5, 2015

BARBARA SIMS ADAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.

ORDER

DAVID C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McDonald’s Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) that the court affirm Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin’s decision denying claimant Barbara Sims Adams’ (“Adams”) application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Adams filed objections to the R&R. For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the R&R and affirms the Commissioner’s decision.

I. BACKGROUND

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

A. Procedural History

Adams filed an application for DIB on April 11, 2011. The Social Security Administration (“the Agency”) denied Adams’ application both initially and on reconsideration. Adams requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and ALJ John E. Case presided over the hearing held on July 24, 2013. In a decision issued on August 8, 2013, the ALJ determined that Adams was not disabled. Adams requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ’s decision. The ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied further review on December 20, 2013.

On February 21, 2014, Adams filed this action seeking review of the ALJ’s decision. The magistrate judge issued an R&R on April 23, 2015, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ’s decision. Adams filed objections to the R&R on May 12, 2015, and the Commissioner responded on May 29, 2015. This matter is now ripe for the court’s review.

B. Medical History

Because the parties are familiar with Adams’ medical history, the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and instead notes a few relevant facts. Adams was forty-six years old at the time of her alleged disability onset date. She completed her education through seventh grade. Tr. 34. She has past relevant work experience as a waitress, warehouse worker, forklift operator, machine operator in textile industry (spinner/spooler), and cashier. Tr. 20. In her application, Adams alleged disability due to leg and back pain.

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 five- step 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. § 404, Subpt. P, App’x 1, which warrants a finding of disability without considering vocational factors; (4) if not, whether the claimant has an impairment which prevents him or her from performing past relevant work; and (5) if so, whether the claimant is able to perform other work considering both his or her remaining physical and mental capacities (defined by his or her residual functional capacity) and his or her 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)). “If an applicant’s claim fails at any step of the [sequential evaluation] process, the ALJ need not advance to the subsequent steps.” Id. (citing Hunter, 993 F.2d at 35).

To determine whether Adams was disabled from September 14, 2010 through the date of his decision, the ALJ employed the statutorily-required five-step sequential evaluation process. At step one, the ALJ found that Adams did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period at issue. Tr. 17. At step two, the ALJ found that Adams suffered from the following severe impairments: lumbar disc disease, cervical disc disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, and a history of renal stones. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that Adams’ impairments or combination thereof did not meet or medically equal one of the impairments listed in the Agency’s Listing of Impairments. Id. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Adams retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with several restrictions. Tr. 18. Specifically, the ALJ stated that Adams could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and must “avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, humidity, pulmonary irritants and hazards.” Id. The ALJ further stated that Adams could “occasionally climb ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl.” Tr. 18. At step four, the ALJ found that Adams could not perform her past relevant work as a waitress, warehouse worker, forklift operator, machine operator in textile industry (spinner, spooler), or cashier. Tr. 20. However, at the fifth step, the ALJ found that Adams could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. The ALJ therefore concluded that Adams was not disabled during the period at issue. Tr. 21.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

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). This court is not required to review the magistrate judge’s factual findings and legal conclusions to which the parties have not objected. See id. The recommendation of the magistrate judge carries no presumptive weight, and the ...


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