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Alexander v. Berryhill

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

March 27, 2017

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



         This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker's Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) recommending that this court affirm Acting Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's (the “Commissioner”) decision denying plaintiff Albert Darnell Alexander, III's (“Alexander”) application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and social security insurance benefits (“SSI”). For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the R&R, and affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Alexander filed an application for SSI and DIB on October 14, 2011. Tr. 27. In each application, Alexander alleged disability beginning November 16, 2008 (the “alleged onset date”). Id. The Social Security Administration denied Alexander's claims initially and on reconsideration. Id. Alexander requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and ALJ Marcus Christ held a hearing on February 20, 2014. Tr. 51-83. The ALJ issued a decision on April 4, 2014, finding that Alexander was not disabled under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). Tr. 27-42. Alexander requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council declined Alexander's request, Tr. 1-6, rendering the ALJ's decision the final action of the Commissioner.

         On December 18, 2015, Alexander filed this action seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision. The magistrate judge issued the R&R on January 19, 2017, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ's decision. Alexander filed objections to the R&R on January 27, 2017, and the Commissioner responded to Alexander's objections on February 3, 2017. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.

         B. Medical History

         Because Alexander's medical history is not directly at issue here, the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and instead notes a few relevant facts. Alexander was born on August 18, 1965 and was 43 years old on the alleged onset date. Tr. 40. He communicates in English and has a high school education. Tr. 40-41

         C. ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ employed the statutorily required five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether Alexander had been under a disability since the alleged onset date. The ALJ first determined that Alexander had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the relevant period. Tr. 30. At step two, the ALJ found that Alexander suffered from the following severe impairments: a neck disorder, headaches/head pain, a back disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), and depression. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined that Alexander'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. 31-33. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Johnson had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “less than a full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.976(b), ” and that Alexander could never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, and should avoid concentrated exposure to excess vibration, respiratory irritants, and workplace hazards. Tr. 33. Additionally, the ALJ determined that Alexander could perform “simple, routine, repetitive tasks.” Id. At step four, the ALJ found that Alexander was unable to perform his past relevant work, but based on his age, education, and RFC, Alexander could perform certain jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 41. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Alexander 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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