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Webb v. Colvin

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

September 30, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          Nina Scarlett Webb, Plaintiff, represented by Beatrice E. Whitten, Beatrice E. Whitten Law Office.

          Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant, represented by Barbara Murcier Bowens, U.S. Attorneys Office.


          DAVID C. NORTON, District Judge.

         This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Shiva Hodges's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") that this court affirm Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin's ("the Commissioner") decision denying plaintiff Nina Scarlett Webb's ("Webb") application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). Webb 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

         Unless otherwise noted, the following background is drawn from the R&R.

         A. Procedural History

         On November 28, 2011, Webb filed an application for DIB in which she alleged her disability began on April 1, 2009. The Social Security Agency denied Webb's claim initially and on reconsideration. Webb requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), and ALJ Carl B. Watson held a hearing on May 15, 2013.

         The ALJ issued a decision on August 9, 2013, finding that Webb was not disabled under the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied Webb's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final action of the Commissioner. On December 23, 2014, Webb filed this action seeking review of the ALJ's decision. The magistrate judge issued an R&R on December 9, 2015, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ's decision. Webb filed objections to the R&R on December 28, 2015, and the Commissioner responded to Webb's objections on January 12, 2016. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.

         B. Medical History

         Because Webb's medical history is not directly at issue here, the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and instead notes a few relevant facts. Webb was born on April 30, 1967 and was 42 years old at the time of her alleged disability onset date. She communicates in English and obtained an associate's degree in criminal justice. Her past relevant work experience was as a secretary, and administrative assistant, and a paralegal.

         C. ALJ's Findings

         The Social Security Act 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); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505. The Social Security regulations establish a fivestep sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Under this process, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant: (1) is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment which equals an illness contained in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1, which warrants a finding of disability without considering vocational factors; (4) if not, whether the claimant has an impairment which prevents him or her from performing past relevant work; and (5) if so, whether the claimant is able to perform other work considering both his or her remaining physical and mental capacities (defined by his or her residual functional capacity) and his or her vocational capabilities (age, education, and past work experience) to adjust to a new job. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264-65 (4th Cir. 1981). The applicant bears the burden of proof during the first four steps of the inquiry, while the burden shifts to the Commissioner for the final step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995) (citing Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 35 (4th Cir. 1992)).

         The ALJ employed the statutorily-required five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether Webb was disabled from April 1, 2009 through the date last insured, December 31, 2009. The ALJ first determined that Webb did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period at issue. Tr. 13. At the second step, the ALJ found that Webb suffered from the following severe impairments: post-partum cardiomyopathy and cardiac arrest with anoxic brain injury, PTSD, anxiety, depression, hypertension, and headaches. Tr. 13. At step three, the ALJ found that Webb's impairments or combination of impairments did not meet or equal one of the listed impairments in the Agency's Listings of Impairments ("the Listings"). Tr. 14; see 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined Webb had the residual function capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work with several limitations. Tr. 15. Specifically, the ALJ found that Webb could only engage in sedentary work without climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; she needed to avoid working at unprotected heights; and she was limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks in an environment where there is no interaction with the general public. Tr. 14. The ALJ found at step four that Webb was not capable of performing past ...

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