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Gilchrist v. Colvin

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

March 28, 2016

JANICE GILCHRIST, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

DAVID C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter is before the court on Magistrate Judge Shiva V. Hodges’s Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) that this court reverse Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin’s (“Commissioner”) decision denying plaintiff Janice Gilchrist’s (“Gilchrist”) application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and remand for further proceedings. The Commissioner filed objections to the R&R. For the reasons set forth below, the court accepts the R&R and remands the Commissioner’s decision.

I. BACKGROUND

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

A. Procedural History

Gilchrist filed an application for DIB on October 19, 2010, alleging disability beginning on July 18, 2009.[1] The Social Security Agency denied Gilchrist’s claim initially and on reconsideration. Gilchrist requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and ALJ Tracy Daly held a hearing on October 12, 2012. The ALJ issued a decision on December 4, 2012 finding that Gilchrist was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Gilchrist requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ’s decision. The Appeals Council declined to review the decision, rendering the ALJ’s decision the final action of the Commissioner.

On June 5, 2014 Gilchrist filed this action seeking review of the ALJ’s decision. The magistrate judge issued an R&R on August 5, 2015 recommending that this court reverse the ALJ’s decision and remand for further proceedings. The Commissioner filed objections to the R&R on August 12, 2015, to which Gilchrist did not reply. The matter is now ripe for the court’s review.

B. Medical History

Because Gilchrist’s medical history is not relevant to the disposition of this case, the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and instead notes a few relevant facts. Gilchrist was born on June 18, 1960 and was 50 years old on the alleged onset date. She completed the ninth grade and has twenty-four years of past relevant work experience as a yarn inspector and as a twister attendant.

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 illness 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)).

The ALJ employed the statutorily required, five-step, sequential-evaluation process to determine whether Gilchrist was disabled from June 18, 2010 through December 31, 2014, her date last insured. The ALJ first determined that Gilchrist had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the relevant time period. Tr. 10. At step two, the ALJ found that Gilchrist suffered from the following severe impairment: arthritis. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined that Gilchrist’s impairment did not meet or equal one of the listed impairments in the Agency’s Listing of Impairments (“the Listings”). Tr. 11; see 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, App’x 1. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Gilchrist had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, as defined by 20 C.F.R. §404.1567(b). Tr. 13. However, the ALJ determined that Gilchrist was unable to crawl, was able to climb ramps or stairs occasionally, was limited to work in a low stress job, must be able to alternate between sitting or standing positions throughout the day without leaving the workstation, must avoid moderate exposure to irritants and chemicals, and must avoid all exposure to hazards, machinery, and unprotected heights. Id. At step four, the ALJ found that Gilchrist was unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 18. At step five, the ALJ found that Gilchrist was able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. The ALJ thus found that Gilchrist was not disabled. Tr. 19.

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). 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 ...


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