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Hough v. Colvin

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

July 27, 2016

Harry S. Hough, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

         This is an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security’s (“Commissioner”) final decision, which denied Plaintiff Harry S. Hough’s (“Plaintiff”) claims for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). The record includes the Report and Recommendation (“Report”) of United States Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant, which was made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C.

         In the Report, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the court affirm the Commissioner’s final decision denying benefits. Plaintiff filed timely objections to the Report, and the Commissioner filed a response to those objections. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) (providing that a party may object, in writing, to a Magistrate Judge’s Report within fourteen days after being served a copy).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on April 2, 2010, due to problems with the left side of his face and neck due to cancer surgery in that area. Plaintiff’s applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on August 23, 2013. On December 6, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff’s claims. The Appeals Council denied review, thereby making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Plaintiff was 49 years old on the date he alleges he became disabled. He has a high school education as well as three years of college, and he has past relevant work experience as an assembly line supervisor, machine operator, fork lift operator, and assembler.

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         I. The Magistrate Judge’s Report

         The court conducts a de novo review to 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 recommendations contained in the Report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Any written objection must specifically identify the portion of the Report to which the objection is made and the basis for the objection. Id.

         II. Judicial Review of a Final Decision

         The role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme as established by the Social Security Act is a limited one. Section 205(g) of the Act provides that “[t]he 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). “Consequently, judicial review . . . of a final decision regarding disability benefits is limited to determining whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied.” Walls v. Barnhart, 296 F.3d 287, 290 (4th Cir. 2002). “Substantial evidence” is defined as:

evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance. If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is “substantial evidence.”

Shively v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cir. 1984) (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)). In assessing whether substantial evidence exists, the reviewing court should not “undertake to reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of” the agency. Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (alteration in original).

         DISCUSSION

         I. The Commissioner’s Final Decision

         The Commissioner is charged with determining the existence of a disability. The Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 301-1399, 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). This determination involves the following five-step inquiry:

[The first step is] whether the claimant engaged in substantial gainful employment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If not, the analysis continues to determine whether, based upon the medical evidence, the claimant has a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c) If the claimed impairment is sufficiently severe, the third step considers whether the claimant has an impairment that equals or exceeds in severity one or more of the impairments listed in Appendix I of the regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d); 20 C.F.R. Part 404, subpart P, App. I. If so, the claimant is disabled. If not, the next inquiry considers if the impairment prevents the claimant from returning to past work. 20 C.F.R. § ...

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