United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division
C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge
Paige J. Gossett's Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”) that the court affirm Acting
Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's (the
“Commissioner”) decision denying Plaintiff
Stephanie Rita Best's (“Plaintiff”)
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). For the reasons set forth below, the
court adopts the R&R and affirms the Commissioner's
filed for SSI and DIB on March 9, 2012, alleging that she
became disabled beginning June 1, 2011 because of rheumatoid
arthritis, hypertension, hypothyroidism, and anxiety. Tr.
147, 287-300. Plaintiff's last date insured was March 31,
2012. Tr. 98, 147. Her claims were denied initially on August
3, 2012, and upon reconsideration on November 15, 2012. Tr.
98. At Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before
Administrative Law Judge Nicole S. Forbes-Schmitt (the
“ALJ”) on December 17, 2013, where Plaintiff and
a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. Tr. 113-44.
On January 31, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding that
Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Tr.
95-107. Following the Appeals Council's denial of
Plaintiff's request for review, the ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-4.
Plaintiff then initiated the present appeal. ECF No. 1. On
October 16, 2016, the magistrate judge issued the R&R
recommending that this court affirm the ALJ's decision.
ECF No. 20. Plaintiff filed objections to the R&R on
November 17, 2016, ECF No. 21, and the Commissioner filed a
reply on December 5, 2016. ECF No. 22.
Plaintiff's medical history is not directly at issue
here, the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof
and only notes a few relevant facts. Plaintiff was born July
13, 1963 and was forty-seven years old at the time of her
alleged disability onset date. Tr. 106. Prior to the
ALJ's decision, plaintiff reached the age of 50, making
her a person closely approaching advanced age. Id.
She has an eighth-grade education and past relevant work
experience as a kennel cleaner, a manager at a thrift store,
and a manager and owner of a video store. Tr. 348.
the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ first noted that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since June 1, 2011, her disability alleged onset date. Tr.
100. Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from three
severe impairments: rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and
anxiety. Tr. 100-01. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's
hyperthyroidism, hypertension, and left-hand injury were not
severe. Id. At the third step, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff's combination of impairments did not meet the
requirements of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
Tr. 101-02. Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
light work. Tr. 102-06. The ALJ noted that Plaintiff had
postural, manipulative, and social limitations-specifically,
she had the ability to lift or carry twenty pounds
occasionally and ten pounds frequently; stand or walk for a
total of six hours in an eight-hour workday; engage in
simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a work setting that did
not require direct ongoing interaction with the public; and
occasionally climb, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
Id. In making this determination, the ALJ relied on
treating rheumatologist Dr. Alan Nussbaum's (“Dr.
Nussbaum”) observations that Plaintiff's rheumatoid
arthritis was so well controlled by her medication regimen
that her use of prednisone was discontinued. Tr. 104.
Likewise, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's residual
complaints of muscle pain and its subsequent improvement with
fibromyalgia medication. Id.
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
styled as a single objection challenging the evidentiary
basis for the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff appears to lodge
two objections against the R&R. Plaintiff's first
objection, as best the court can tell,  relates to the
ALJ's failure to explain the weight it gave to certain
“objective clinical evidence, ” Pl.'s Obj. 3,
while the second takes issue with the magistrate judge's