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Hagan v. Berryhill

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

March 31, 2017

TERESA JANE HAGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          DAVID C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This 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 Commissioner's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Hagan 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.

         On 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.

         B. Medical History

         Because 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.

         C. ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ 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.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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).

         III. ...


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