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Jackson v. Colvin

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

September 26, 2016

ANGEL V. JACKSON, 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 United States Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McDonald's Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) that this court affirm Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin's (the “Commissioner”) decision denying plaintiff Angel V. Jackson's (“Jackson”) claims for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income benefits (“SSIB”). Jackson 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 [1]

         A. Procedural History

         Jackson filed applications for DIB and SSIB on May 15, 2006, alleging disability beginning April 1, 2006. The Social Security Administration denied Jackson's applications on April 21, 2009, and no further action was taken. Plaintiff filed a second DIB application on October 22, 2009, again alleging disability beginning April 1, 2006. This second claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. Jackson requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), but later withdrew that request, at which point Jackson's second claim was dismissed.

         Jackson filed the instant applications for DIB and SSIB on July 20, 2011, alleging disability beginning on June 20, 2011. The Social Security Administration denied the claims initially and on reconsideration. Jackson requested a hearing before an ALJ and ALJ Gregory M. Wilson held a hearing on August 27, 2013. The ALJ issued a decision on February 14, 2014, finding that Jackson was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Jackson 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 July 15, 2015, Jackson filed this action seeking review of the ALJ's decision. The magistrate judge issued an R&R on July 29, 2016, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ's decision. Jackson filed objections to the R&R on August 16, 2016, and the Commissioner responded to Jackson's objections on September 1, 2016. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.

         B. Medical History

         Because Jackson's medical history is not directly at issue here, the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and instead notes a few relevant facts. Jackson was born on June 28, 1964 and was 46 years old at the time of her alleged disability onset date. She communicates in English and has at least a high school education.

         C. ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ employed the statutorily required five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if Jackson was disabled between June 20, 2011, and August 27, 2013, the date of the hearing. The ALJ first determined that Jackson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the relevant time period. Tr. 20. At step two, the ALJ found that Jackson suffered from the following severe impairments: headaches, a thyroid disorder, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and obesity. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined that Jackson's impairments did not meet or equal one of the listed impairments in the Agency's Listing of Impairments (“the Listings”). Tr. 21; see 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Jackson had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with certain restrictions. Tr. 24. More specifically, the ALJ determined that Jackson could never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds, but could occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. Id. The ALJ further determined that Jackson had to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards and fumes, and due to visual disturbance, she could not drive or handle small objects such as a needle. Id. At step four, the ALJ found that Jackson was unable to perform her past relevant work as a nursery school attendant or day care worker. Id. at 32. Nevertheless, the ALJ found that given Jackson's age, education, work experience, and RFC, she was capable of performing other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 33-34. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Jackson was not disabled. Id.

         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 responsibility to make a final determination rests with this court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976).

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision regarding disability benefits “is limited to determining whether the findings of the [Commissioner] are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied.” Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Id. (internal citations omitted). “[I]t is not within the province of a reviewing court to determine the weight of the evidence, nor is it the court's function to substitute its judgment for that of the [Commissioner] if his decision is supported by substantial evidence.” Id. Where conflicting evidence “allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the [ALJ], ” not on the reviewing court. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal citation omitted). However, “[a] factual finding by the ALJ is not binding if it was reached by means of an improper standard or misapplication of the law.” Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987)

         III. ...


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