United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Beaufort Division
C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge
Bristow Marchant's Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”) that this court affirm Acting
Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin's (the
“Commissioner”) decision denying plaintiff Jo Ann
Woodbury's (“Woodbury”) claims for disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”). Woodbury filed
objections to the R&R. For the reasons set forth below,
the court adopts the R&R and affirms the
filed an application for DIB on January 5, 2012, alleging
disability beginning December 1, 2011. The Social Security
Administration denied Woodbury's claim initially and on
reconsideration. Woodbury requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and ALJ Carl B.
Watson held a video hearing on December 17, 2013. The ALJ
issued a decision on March 7, 2014, finding that Woodbury was
not disabled under the Social Security Act. Woodbury
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
2, 2015, Woodbury filed this action seeking review of the
ALJ's decision. The magistrate judge issued an R&R on
June 13, 2016, recommending that this court affirm the
ALJ's decision. Woodbury filed objections to the R&R
on June 30, 2016, and the Commissioner responded to
Woodbury's objections on July 18, 2016. The matter is now
ripe for the court's review.
Woodbury's medical history is not directly at issue here,
the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and
instead notes a few relevant facts. Woodbury was 54 years old
at the time of her alleged disability onset date. She
communicates in English and has a high school education with
two years of college.
employed the statutorily required five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine whether Woodbury was disabled
between December 1, 2011, and December 31, 2015, the date
Woodbury was last insured under 20 CFR § 404.1520(g). At
step one, the ALJ determined that Woodbury had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity during the relevant period. Tr.
14. At step two, the ALJ found that Woodbury suffered from
the following severe impairments: (1) osteoarthritis, (2)
fibromyalgia, (3) diabetes mellitus, (4) hypertension, and
(5) obesity. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined
that Woodbury's impairments did not meet or equal any of
the listed impairments in the Agency's Listing of
Impairments (“the Listings”). Tr. 16-17;
see 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1.
Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined that
Woodbury had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform medium work, as defined by 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(c), with certain restrictions. Tr.
18-22. More specifically, the ALJ determined that Woodbury
must avoid working at unprotected heights and could never
climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds, but could occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, kneel, crouch and crawl. Id.
At step four, the ALJ found that Woodbury was able to perform
her past relevant work as a customer service representative
and insurance agent. Id. at 22. Therefore, the ALJ
concluded that Woodbury was not disabled. Id.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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
objects to the R&R on two grounds, arguing that the
magistrate judge erred in finding that: (1) the ALJ properly
explained his decision to attribute “significant
weight” to examining physician Dr. James Way's
(“Way”) opinion, even though certain portions of
that opinion undermine the ALJ's finding that
Woodbury's mental impairments were not severe, and (2)
the ALJ did not err in failing to address Woodbury's GAF
scores. The court will address each objection in turn.