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Johnson v. Berryhill

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

March 27, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett's Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) that this court affirm Acting Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's (the “Commissioner”) decision denying plaintiff Deborah Jean Johnson's (“Johnson”) application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and social security insurance benefits (“SSI”). For the reasons set forth below, the court rejects the R&R, and reverses and remands the Commissioner's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Johnson filed an application for SSI on July 27, 2012 and an application for DIB on August 4, 2012. Tr. 12. In each application, Johnson alleged disability beginning January 25, 2004 (the “alleged onset date”). Id. The Social Security Administration denied Johnson's claims initially and on reconsideration. Id. Johnson requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and ALJ Thomas G. Henderson held a hearing on June 4, 2014. Tr. 9-54. The ALJ issued a decision on June 26, 2014, finding that Johnson was not disabled under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). Tr. 9-32. Johnson requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council declined Johnson's request, Tr. 1-4, rendering the ALJ's decision the final action of the Commissioner.

         On November 19, 2015, Johnson filed this action seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision. The magistrate judge issued the R&R on December 7, 2016, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ's decision. Johnson filed objections to the R&R on December 20, 2016, and the Commissioner responded to Johnson's objections on December 30, 2016. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.

         B. Medical History

         Because Johnson's medical history is not directly at issue here, the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and instead notes a few relevant facts. Johnson was born on September 27, 1965 and was 38 years old on the alleged onset date. Tr. 24. She communicates in English and has an eighth grade education. Id.

         C. ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ employed the statutorily required five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether Johnson had been under a disability since the alleged onset date. The ALJ first determined that Johnson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the relevant period. Tr. 14. At step two, the ALJ found that Johnson suffered from the following severe impairments: borderline intellectual functioning, lumbar spondylosis, pancreatitis, and bilateral kidney stones. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined that Johnson's impairments did not meet or equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“the Listings”).Tr. 15-19. Most notably, the ALJ determined that Johnson did not show “deficits in adaptive functioning initially manifested during the developmental period, ” as required by Listing 12.05. Tr. 16-18. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Johnson had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform: “[l]ight work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.976(b) except that she can perform postural activities occasionally.” Tr. 19. Additionally, the ALJ determined that Johnson's RFC was “limited to occupations, which involve the performance of simple, routine, repetitive tasks.” Id. At step four, the ALJ found that Johnson was unable to perform her past relevant work, but based on her age, education, and RFC, Johnson could perform certain jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Johnson had not been under a disability within the meaning of the Act since the alleged onset date.


         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 ...

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