United States District Court, D. South Carolina
OPINION AND ORDER
Howe Hendricks United States District Judge
Latoyia Abrena Myers (“Plaintiff”) brought this
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) to obtain
judicial review of a final decision of Defendant Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying her
claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under
the Social Security Act. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rules 73.02(B)(2)(a) and 83.VII.02,
D.S.C., this matter was referred to United States Magistrate
Judge Kaymani D. West, for pretrial handling. On December 13,
2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation
(“Report” or “R&R”) in which she
determined that Plaintiff did not show that the
Commissioner's decision was unsupported by substantial
evidence or reached through application of an incorrect legal
standard. Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge recommended
affirming the Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 27.)
Plaintiff filed Objections on December 28, 2016 (ECF No. 29),
and on January 11, 2017, the Commissioner filed a Reply (ECF
No. 32). For the reasons stated below, the Court adopts the
Report and affirms the Commissioner's decision.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Report and Recommendation sets forth in detail the relevant
facts and standards of law on this matter, and the Court
incorporates them and summarizes below in relevant part.
Plaintiff was 30 years old on her amended alleged disability
onset date of January 22, 2010. She completed one year of
college and has past relevant work experience as a packer,
cashier, and telephone collections agent.
August 30, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and
SSI benefits alleging a disability since October 15,
2008. A hearing was held before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) who issued a
partially favorable decision on August 14, 2012, finding
Plaintiff was not disabled prior to March 6, 2012, but became
disabled on that date and continued to be disabled through
the date of his decision. The Appeals Council granted
Plaintiff's request for review and vacated the ALJ's
entire hearing decision, including the favorable portions. It
remanded Plaintiff's case to the ALJ for further
consideration of Plaintiff's earnings from 2011,
consideration of Plaintiff's maximum RFC, and to obtain
evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the effect of
the assessed limitations on the claimant's occupational
conducted a second hearing on September 11, 2014, and issued
an unfavorable decision on February 25, 2015, finding that
Plaintiff has not been under a disability from January 22,
2010, through the date of his decision. The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff subsequently filed an action in this Court on
September 1, 2015. (ECF No. 1.)
Magistrate Judge recommends affirming the ALJ's decision.
The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this
Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976). The
Court is charged with making a de novo determination
of those portions of the Report to which specific objection
is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in
whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge,
or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1). “However, the Court is not required to
review, under a de novo or any other standard, the
factual or legal conclusions of the Magistrate Judge as to
those portions of the report and recommendation to which no
objections are addressed. While the level of scrutiny
entailed by the Court's review of the Report thus depends
on whether or not objections have been filed, in either case
the Court is free, after review, to accept, reject, or modify
any of the Magistrate Judge's findings or
recommendations.” Wallace v. Housing Auth. of the
City of Columbia, 791 F.Supp. 137, 138 (D.S.C. 1992)
(internal citations omitted).
role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme
established by the Social Security Act is a limited one.
Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court may only review
whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of
the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . .
.”); Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982 (4th
Cir. 1980). “Substantial evidence has been defined
innumerable times as more than a scintilla, but less than
preponderance.” Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d
541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964); see, e.g., Daniel v.
Gardner, 404 F.2d 889 (4th Cir. 1968); Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966); Tyler v.
Weinberger, 409 F.Supp. 776 (E.D. Va. 1976). In order
for a reviewing court to determine whether the Commissioner
based a decision on substantial evidence, “the decision
must include the reasons for the determination . . . .”
Green v. Chater, 64 F.3d 657, 1995 WL 478032, *2
(4th Cir. 1995) (citing Cook v. Heckler, 783 F.2d
1168, 1172 (4th Cir. 1986)). The statutorily mandated
standard precludes a de novo review of the factual
circumstances that substitutes the Court's findings for
those of the Commissioner. See, e.g., Vitek v.
Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971); Hicks v.
Gardner, 393 F.2d 299 (4th Cir. 1968). Accordingly,
“the court [must] uphold the [Commissioner's]
decision even should the court disagree with such decision as
long as it is supported by ‘substantial
evidence.'” Blalock v. Richardson, 483
F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). As noted by Judge Sobeloff in
Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278 (4th Cir. 1969),
“[f]rom this it does not follow, however, that the
findings of the administrative agency are to be mechanically
accepted. The statutorily granted right of review
contemplates more than an uncritical rubber stamping of the
administrative action.” Id. at 279.
“[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 his conclusion is rational.”
Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.
filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on December
28, 2016 (ECF No. 29), and the Commissioner filed a reply on
January 11, 2017 (ECF No. 32). Plaintiff objects to the
Magistrate Judge's recommendation concerning the
ALJ's alleged failure: 1) to consider whether the work
performed by Plaintiff in 2011 and 2012 was done under
special conditions as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1573;
2) to consider whether any of the work performed by Plaintiff
in 2011 constituted an unsuccessful work attempt as defined
by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1574(c) and SSR 05-02; and 3) to
consider all relevant evidence of record, including opinion
evidence provided by two of Plaintiff's treating
physicians. (ECF No. 29.)
Special Conditions under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1573
first argues that the ALJ failed to consider whether the work
performed by Plaintiff in 2011 and 2012 was done under
special conditions as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1573.
to 20 CFR § 404.1574, “[t]he amount of ... [a
claimant's] earnings from work . . . [a claimant has]
done . . . may show that . . . [the claimant has] engaged in
substantial gainful activity [“SGA”].” 20
CFR § 404.1574. Thus, “[t]he regulations provide a
presumption that if an individual is earning at or above the
substantial gainful activity dollar amount, such work would
“ordinarily show that [she has] engaged in substantial
gainful activity.” Miller v. Astrue, 2011 WL
5526196, *3 (D.S.C. Oct. 24, 2011) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §
404.1574) (brackets in original), adopted by, 2011
WL 5526027 (D.S.C. November 14, 2011). However, the income
guidelines of section 404.1574(b)(2) do not automatically
disqualify a disability claim. On the contrary, “[t]his
presumption of substantial gainful activity is not to be
rigidly applied, and it may be rebutted.” Payne v.
Sullivan, 946 F.2d. 1081, 1083 (4th Cir. 1991). Section
404.1573 requires an ALJ to consider other factors such as
the nature of her work, how well she performs her work, if
her work is done under special conditions, if she is
self-employed, and the time spent in work. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1573; see also Payne, 946 F.2d at 1083 (stating
that factors for consideration include “the nature of
his work and his ability to do that work, including his
endurance, his capacity to perform various physical
functions, and his work schedule”).
decision, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff earned $13, 303 in
2011 and $13, 246 in 2012, and found that both sums exceeded
the SGA amount. ...