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Best v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

March 3, 2017

STEPHANIE RITA BEST, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          DAVID C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This 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 decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff 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.

         B. Medical History

         Because 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.

         C. ALJ's Decision

         Applying 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.

         II. STANDARD

         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 responsibility to make a final determination rests with this court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976).

         Judicial 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 Cir. 1987)

         III. DISCUSSION

         Though 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, [1] 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 finding ...


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