United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
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.
C. NORTON, District Judge.
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.
otherwise noted, the following background is drawn from the
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.
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.
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.
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. Â§ 423(d)(1)(A);
20 C.F.R. Â§ 404.1505. The Social Security regulations
establish a fivestep sequential evaluation process to
determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. Â§Â§
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. Â§
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. Â§ 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
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 ...