United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division
C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge
Kaymani D. West's Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”) that this court affirm Acting
Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's (the
“Commissioner”) decision denying plaintiff
Theresa Jane Hagan's (“Hagan”) application
for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”).
Plaintiff filed objections to the R&R. For the reasons
set forth below, the court adopts the R&R and affirms the
filed an application for DIB on July 3, 2010, alleging
disability beginning on December 1, 2007 (the “alleged
onset date”). Tr. 118. The Social Security
Administration denied Hagan's claim initially and on
reconsideration. Tr. 64, 69. Hagan requested a hearing before
an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and ALJ
Edward T. Morriss held a hearing on December 8, 2011, during
which Hagan amended her alleged onset date to June 1, 2010.
Tr. 26-57. The ALJ issued a decision on March 19, 2012,
finding Hagan was not disabled under the Social Security Act.
Tr. 10-21. Hagan requested Appeals Council review of the
ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council declined to review
the decision, rendering the ALJ's decision the final
action of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-6.
April 23, 2013, Hagan filed this action seeking review of the
ALJ's decision. On August 15, 2014, the court issued an
order reversing the Commissioner's decision and remanding
the case with directions to the ALJ to consider Hagan's
mental impairments (the “Order”). Tr. 579-85. On
remand, the ALJ issued a decision on March 23, 2015, once
again finding Hagan not disabled under the Act. Tr. 510-23.
Hagan bypassed the Appeals Council and sought judicial review
of the Commissioner's decision on May 29, 2015. ECF No.
1. The magistrate judge issued an R&R on January 24,
2017, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ's
decision. ECF No. 25. Hagan filed objections to the R&R
on February 15, 2017, ECF No. 30, and the Commissioner
responded to Hagan's objections on February 28, 2017. ECF
No. 33. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.
Hagan's medical history is not directly at issue here,
the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and
instead notes a few relevant facts. Hagan was born on April
11, 1959 and was 51 years old on the alleged onset date. Tr.
32. She has a tenth grade education and past relevant work
experience working at a grocery store deli counter and as
shift manager at a bingo parlor. Tr. 32-33.
employed the statutorily-required five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine whether Hagan had been under
a disability since her amended alleged onset date of June 1,
2010 through her date last insured of September 30, 2011. Tr.
515. The ALJ first determined that Hagan had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity during the relevant period. Tr.
515. At the second step, the ALJ found that Hagan suffered
from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc
disease, degenerative joint disease status post left knee
arthroscopy, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Tr.
515. At step three, the ALJ determined that Hagan'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. 516. Before reaching the
fourth step, the ALJ determined that Hagan had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light
work, as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). Tr. 517.
Specifically, the ALJ found that Hagan could: lift and carry
up to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently;
stand, walk, and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday;
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch,
and crawl; frequently balance; and never climb ladders,
ramps, or scaffolds. Id. The ALJ further determined
that Hagan must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors,
dusts, gases, and poor ventilation, and that she must avoid
exposure to hazards such as machinery and heights. Tr. 518.
At step four, the ALJ found that Hagan was able to perform
past relevant work as a bingo shift manager because this work
did not require the performance of any work-related
activities that were precluded by her RFC of light work. Tr.
522. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Hagan had not been
under a disability within the meaning of the Act since the
alleged onset date. Id.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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).