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Davis v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

March 27, 2017

ROGER D. DAVIS, JR., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn D. Austin's Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) that the court affirm Acting Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's (the “Commissioner”) decision denying plaintiff Roger D. Davis, Jr.'s (“Davis”) 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 [1]

         A. Procedural History

         Davis filed applications for DIB and SSI on July 19, 2012. Both applications allege disability beginning May 20, 2012 (the “alleged onset date”). The Social Security Administration denied Davis's claims initially and on reconsideration. Davis requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and ALJ Nicole S. Forbes-Schmitt conducted a hearing on November 7, 2013. The ALJ issued a decision on January 31, 2014, finding that Davis was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (the “Act”) from his alleged onset date through the date of the decision. Davis requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council declined Davis's request, rendering the ALJ's decision the final action of the Commissioner.

         On July 30, 2015, Davis filed this action seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision. ECF No. 1. The magistrate judge issued the R&R on January 4, 2017, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ's decision. Davis filed objections to the R&R on February 1, 2017, ECF No. 20, and the Commissioner responded to Davis's objections on February 15, 2017. ECF No. 22. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.

         B. Medical History

         Because Davis'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 November 8, 1973 and was 38 years old on the alleged onset date. Tr. 24. He communicates in English and has limited education. Id.

         C. ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ employed the statutorily required five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether Davis had been under a disability since the alleged onset date. The ALJ first determined that Davis had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the relevant period. Tr. 20. At step two, the ALJ found that Davis suffered from a single severe impairment: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined that Davis did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“the Listings”). Tr. 21. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Davis had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a) and 416.976(a)” with the option to sit or stand at will and with no exposure to additional hazards. Id. At step four, the ALJ found that Davis was unable to perform his past relevant work as a saw operator and floor finisher, but based on his age, education, and RFC, Davis could perform certain jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 24. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Davis had not been under a disability within the meaning of the Act since the alleged onset date. Tr. 25.


         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. ...

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