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Bibbs v. Colvin

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

July 28, 2016

Cherry Larraine Bibbs, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Margaret B. Seymour Senior United States District Judge

         This is an action brought pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), codified as amended at 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”).

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Cherry Larraine Bibbs filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) on August 15, 2012, alleging disability since August 8, 2012. Tr. 11. Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ held a hearing on November 26, 2013. Tr. 21. The ALJ issued a decision dated January 16, 2014, in which he concluded that Plaintiff was not “disabled” as defined in the Social Security Act. Tr. 20. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance benefits or supplemental security income under Sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ’s decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on March 30, 2015. Tr. 1-3. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the “final decision” of the Commissioner for the purposes of judicial review. Plaintiff thereafter brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review.

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant for a Report and Recommendation. On June 2, 2016, the Magistrate Judge filed a Report and Recommendation in which he recommended that the Commissioner’s decision to deny benefits be affirmed. ECF No. 22. Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on June 20, 2016. ECF No. 24. The Commissioner filed a response to Plaintiff’s objections on July 8, 2016. ECF No. 25.

         This matter now is before the court for review of the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation. The court is charged with making a de novo determination of any portions of the Report to which a specific objection is made. The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation made by the Magistrate Judge or may recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme 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). “Substantial evidence has been defined innumerable times as more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4thCir. 1964). This standard precludes a de novo review of the factual circumstances that substitutes the court’s findings for those of the Commissioner. Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971). The court must uphold the Commissioner’s decision as long as it is supported by substantial evidence. Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). “From 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.” Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278, 279 (4th Cir. 1969). “[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.

         The Commissioner’s findings of fact are not binding if they were based upon the application of an improper legal standard. Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). However, the Commissioner’s denial of benefits shall be reversed only if no reasonable mind could accept the record as adequate to support that determination. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff was forty years old at the time of her hearing before the ALJ regarding her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Tr. 25. She has a high school education and has worked in the past as a hairbraider, cafeteria manager, office clerk, and combination cashier /stocker. Tr. 19. She claims disability beginning August 8, 2012, including lower back problems, both legs giving out rendering her unable to walk, and numbness in her right arm. Tr. 56. Plaintiff asserts specific objections to the Report and Recommendation. The court will review each of these objections in turn.

         A. Residual Functional Capacity

         Plaintiff contends that the Magistrate Judge failed to find substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s conclusion regarding Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”).[1] ECF No. 24 at 2. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had a residual functional capacity to perform “sedentary work, ” as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567:

[A] sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting [although] a certain amount of walking and standing ...

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