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Edwards v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

June 3, 2016

Angela Edwards, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Bruce Howe Hendricks United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Angela Edwards (“Plaintiff") brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) to obtain judicial review of a final decision of Defendant, Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner"), denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB") and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI") under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rules 73.02(B)(2)(a) and 83.VII.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West, for pretrial handling. On April 15, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report" or “R&R") in which she determined that Plaintiff did not show that the Commissioner’s decision was unsupported by substantial evidence or reached through application of an incorrect legal standard. Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge recommended affirming the Commissioner’s decision. (ECF No. 19.) Plaintiff filed Objections on May 2, 2016. (ECF No. 21.) For the reasons stated below, the Court adopts the Report and affirms the Commissioner’s decision.


         The Report sets forth in detail the relevant facts and standards of law on this matter, and the Court incorporates them and summarizes below in relevant part.[1]Plaintiff was 35 years old on her alleged disability onset date. She completed one year of college and has past relevant work experience as an administrative assistant and substitute teacher. On May 12, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI benefits alleging a disability since August 1, 2010, due to inflammatory arthritis, anemia, and idiopathic urticaria. (Tr. 16.) A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ") who issued an unfavorable decision on October 8, 2013, finding Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review, making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff subsequently filed an action in this Court on March 13, 2015.


         The Magistrate Judge recommends affirming the ALJ’s decision. (ECF No. 19 at 21.) The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (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). “However, the Court is not required to review, under a de novo or any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of the Magistrate Judge as to those portions of the report and recommendation to which no objections are addressed. While the level of scrutiny entailed by the Court’s review of the Report thus depends on whether or not objections have been filed, in either case the Court is free, after review, to accept, reject, or modify any of the Magistrate Judge’s findings or recommendations." Wallace v. Housing Auth. of the City of Columbia, 791 F.Supp. 137, 138 (D.S.C. 1992) (internal citations omitted).


         The role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme established by the Social Security Act is a limited one. Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court may only review whether the Commissioner’s decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . ."); Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982 (4th Cir. 1980). “Substantial evidence has been defined innumerable times as more than a scintilla, but less than preponderance." Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964); see, e.g., Daniel v. Gardner, 404 F.2d 889 (4th Cir. 1968); Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966); Tyler v. Weinberger, 409 F.Supp. 776 (E.D. Va. 1976). In order for a reviewing court to determine whether the Commissioner based a decision on substantial evidence, “the decision must include the reasons for the determination . . . ." Green v. Chater, 64 F.3d 657, 1995 WL 478032, *2 (4th Cir. 1995) (citing Cook v. Heckler, 783 F.2d 1168, 1172 (4th Cir. 1986)). The statutorily mandated standard precludes a de novo review of the factual circumstances that substitutes the Court’s findings for those of the Commissioner. See, e.g., Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971); Hicks v. Gardner, 393 F.2d 299 (4th Cir. 1968). Accordingly, “the court [must] uphold the [Commissioner’s] decision even should the court disagree with such decision as long as it is supported by ‘substantial evidence.’" Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). As noted by Judge Sobeloff in Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278 (4th Cir. 1969), “[f]rom this it does not follow, however, that the findings of the administrative agency are to be mechanically accepted. The statutorily granted right of review contemplates more than an uncritical rubber stamping of the administrative action." Id. at 279. “[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 his conclusion is rational." Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.


         Plaintiff filed objections to the Report on May 2, 2016. (ECF No. 21.) She objects that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that the ALJ: (1) properly determined that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or equal Listing 14.09; and (2) provided adequate reasons for her credibility determination.

         Very respectfully, these objections are the precise matters raised to the Magistrate Judge and appropriately rejected in her thorough twenty-one page Report. (See ECF No. 19 at 12-20); see also Hendrix v. Colvin, 2013 WL 2407126, at *4 (D.S.C. June 3, 2013); Jackson v. Astrue, 2011 WL 1883026 (W.D. N.C. May 17, 2011); Aldrich v. Bock, 327 F.Supp.2d 743, 747 (E.D. Mich. 2004). Nevertheless, the Court employs de novo review to consider Plaintiff’s specific objections in turn.[2]

         A. Listing 14.09

         Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ erred in determining that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or equal Listing No. 14.09, which concerns the evaluation of inflammatory arthritis as a severe impairment. (ECF No. 21 at 1.) Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ ignored certain evidence in making her determination and that the Magistrate Judge “did not actually address the ALJ’s errors in reasoning that [Plaintiff] pointed out." (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff also relies on Fox v. Colvin, 2015 WL 9204287 (4th Cir. 2015), to support her assertion that the ALJ’s analysis here was insufficient.

         As an initial matter, the Court finds that the Magistrate Judge did not ignore Plaintiff’s arguments on this issue. Rather, she began her discussion by acknowledging Plaintiff’s assertions that “record evidence" supports finding her impairments meet or equal Listing 14.09. (ECF No. 19 at 14.) After reviewing the evidence in the record, however, the Magistrate Judge found that “[a]lthough Plaintiff may be able to point to selective evidence in support of finding ...

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