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Brown v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

March 27, 2017

Laura S. Brown, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, acting commissioner of social security, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         Plaintiff Laura S. Brown filed this action seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). (ECF No. 1.)

         This matter is before the court for review of the Report and Recommendation (“Report”) of United States Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn D. Austin, issued in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 (B)(2)(a) (D.S.C.). (ECF No. 23.) On January 30, 2017, Magistrate Judge Austin recommended that the court affirm the Commissioner's final decision to deny Plaintiff's claim for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). (ECF No. 23 at 25.) Plaintiff timely filed Objections to the Report (“Objections”) on February 13, 2017. (ECF No. 25.)

         For the reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 23) and AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner denying Plaintiff's claim for SSI.

         I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The Report contains a thorough recitation of the relevant factual and procedural background of this matter. (ECF No. 23 at 2-3.) The court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Report's factual and procedural summation is accurate, and the court adopts this summary as its own. The court will only reference background pertinent to the analysis of Plaintiff's claims.

         Plaintiff was born on December 22, 1967, and is presently 49 years old. (ECF No. 11-5 at 11.) Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on October 16, 2012, which alleged disability since January 1, 1999. (ECF No. 11-5 at 11.)[1] Plaintiff claimed she suffered from the following severe impairments: obesity, coronary artery disease, and diabetes mellitus. (ECF No. 11-2 at 15.) Plaintiff's application was denied on April 24, 2013 (ECF No. 11-3 at 70-82), and upon its reconsideration on October 31, 2013 (ECF No. 11-3 at 85-98). As a result, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on January 17, 2014. (ECF No. 11-4 at 27-28.) On October 24, 2014, the Administrative Law Judge Richard L. Vogel (the “ALJ”) found that Plaintiff was not under disability as defined by the Social Security Act (“SSA”) because a Plaintiff could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (ECF No. 11-2 at 12-25 (citing SSA § 1614(a)(3)(A)).) Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 17, 2015, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. (ECF No. 11-2 at 2.)

         Subsequently, on October 2, 2015, Plaintiff commenced an action in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3) to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying Plaintiff's claim for SSI. (ECF No. 1.)

         On January 30, 2017, Magistrate Judge Austin issued her recommendation that the Commissioner's final decision denying Plaintiff's claims for SSI should be affirmed. (ECF No. 23.) Plaintiff timely filed Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report on February 13, 2017.

         (ECF No. 25.) The Commissioner filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation on February 23, 2017 (ECF No. 26.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court, which has no presumptive weight. Thus, the responsibility to make a final determination remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976.) The court reviews de novo only those portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which specific objections are filed, and reviews those portions which are not objected to for clear error, including those portions to which only “general and conclusory” objections have been made. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005); see also Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983); Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the magistrate judge or recommit the matter with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         The role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme established by the SSA is a limited one. Section 405(g) of the SSA provides, “the findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence has been defined innumerable times as more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964). This standard precludes a de novo review of the factual circumstances that substitutes the court's findings for those of the Commissioner. See Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971). The court must uphold the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. See Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). “From this it does not follow, however, that the findings of the administrative agency are to be mechanically accepted.” Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278, 279 (4th Cir. 1969). “The statutorily granted right of review contemplates more than an uncritical rubber stamping of the administrative agency.” Id. “[T]he courts must not abdicate their responsibility to give careful scrutiny to the whole record to assure that there is a sound foundation for the [Commissioner's] findings, and that this conclusion is rational.” Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. The Magistrate Judge's Review

         In the Report, the Magistrate Judge addressed Plaintiff's arguments that (1) “the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to properly assesses [sic] Plaintiff's [residual functional capacity] in accordance with [Social Security Ruling] 96-8p” and (2) the ALJ “failed to properly evaluate Plaintiff's credibility in accordance with [SSR] 96-7p.” (ECF No. 23 at 3.)

         First, the Magistrate Judge provided that the ALJ's evaluation of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ...


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