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Gadsden v. Colvin

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

September 30, 2016

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

          Debbie Louise Gadsden, Plaintiff, represented by Beatrice E. Whitten, Beatrice E. Whitten Law Office.


          DAVID C. NORTON, District Judge.

         This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") that this court affirm Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin's (the "Commissioner") decision denying plaintiff Debbie Louise Gadsden's ("Gadsden") claims for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income benefits ("SSIB"). Gadsden filed objections to the R&R. For the reasons set forth below, the court rejects the R&R, and reverses and remands the Commissioner's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         A. Procedural History

         Gadsden filed an application for DIB in December 2011, alleging disability beginning June 30, 2006. In February 2012, Gadsden filed an application for SSIB alleging a disability beginning June 30, 2005. The Social Security Administration denied Gadsden's applications initially and on reconsideration. Gadsden requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), and ALJ Richard L. Vogel held a hearing on September 20, 2013. At the hearing, Gadsden amended her alleged onset date to December 22, 2011. The ALJ issued a decision on October 21, 2013, finding Gadsden was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Gadsden 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 April 2, 2015, Gadsden filed this action seeking review of the ALJ's decision. The magistrate judge issued an R&R on May 17, 2016, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ's decision. Gadsden filed objections to the R&R on June 7, 2016, and the Commissioner responded to Gadsden's objections on June 24, 2016. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.

         B. Medical History

         Because Gadsden's medical history is not directly at issue here, the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and instead notes a few relevant facts. Gadsden was born in March 1963 and was 48 years old at the time of her alleged disability onset date. She communicates in English and has one year of college.

         On December 22, 2011, Gadsden applied for disability benefits with the Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA") seeking compensation for various "serviceconnected impairments." Tr. 209-25. On July 24, 2013, the VA issued a Rating decision (the "2013 VA Rating") granting Gadsden's claim and assigning a disability evaluation of 70% for major depressive disorder, 30% for migraine headaches, 10% for acid reflux, and an overall disability rating of 70% disability. Tr. 216-19. The 2013 VA Rating was included in the record at Gadsden's September 20, 2013, hearing. The VA issued a new decision on Gadsden's claim for benefits on June 11, 2014, outlining her entitlement to benefits and again assigning disability evaluations of 70% for major depressive disorder and 30% for migraine headaches. Tr. 295-301. Days later, on June 16, 2014, the VA sent a letter certifying that Gadsden was 100% permanently disabled (the "2014 VA Rating"). Tr. 302. The 2014 VA Rating and the records of a May 2014 Compensation and Pension Exam ("C&P Exam") were included in Gadsden's submission to the Appeals Council. Pl.'s Objections 2-3.

         C. ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ employed the statutorily required five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if Gadsden was disabled between December 22, 2011, and September 20, 2013, the date of the hearing. At step one, the ALJ determined that Gadsden had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the relevant time period. Tr. 31. At step two, the ALJ found that Gadsden suffered from the following severe impairments: depression, migraine headaches, and obesity. Tr. 31 At step three, the ALJ determined that Gadsden's impairments did not meet or equal one of the listed impairments in the Agency's Listing of Impairments ("the Listings"). Tr. 32; see 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Gadsden had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with certain restrictions. Tr. 34. More specifically, the ALJ determined that Gadsden could lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, could stand, walk and sit for six hours each in an eight hour workday, could never climb, crawl or balance for safety, could not have exposure to workplace hazards, and should be given a stand/sit option. Tr. 34. The ALJ further determined that Gadsden was limited to work in a low stress environment. Tr. 34. At step four, the ALJ found that Gadsden was unable to perform her past relevant work in the Coast Guard. Tr. 37. Finally, at step five, the ALJ concluded that, considering Gadsden's age, education, work experience, and RFC, she could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, and therefore concluded that she was not disabled during the period at issue. Tr. 38


         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 ...

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