United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division
ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND
AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DENIAL OF PLAINTIFF'S CLAIM FOR
GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
a Social Security appeal in which Plaintiff seeks judicial
review of the final decision of Defendant denying his claims
for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The parties are
represented by excellent counsel. The matter is before the
Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (Report) of
the United States Magistrate Judge suggesting to the Court
Defendant's decision denying Plaintiff's claim for
SSI be affirmed. The Report was made in accordance with 28
U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District
of South Carolina.
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (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. §
Magistrate Judge filed the Report on April 24, 2017. ECF No.
24. Plaintiff filed his objections on May 8, 2017. ECF No.
26. Defendant failed to object to the Report. The Court has
carefully reviewed Plaintiff's objections and holds them
meritless. Therefore, it will enter judgment accordingly.
filed his application for SSI on September 18, 2012,
asserting his disability commenced on June 9, 2005.
Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration. The administrative law judge (ALJ) conducted
a hearing on Plaintiff's application on October 15, 2014.
At the hearing, Plaintiff amended his alleged disability
onset date to September 18, 2012. On November 26, 2014, the
ALJ issued a decision holding Plaintiff was not disabled
under the Act. The Appeals Council subsequently denied
Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision.
Accordingly, the ALJ's decision became Defendant's
final decision for purposes of judicial review. Thereafter,
Plaintiff filed an action in this Court on May 9, 2016,
seeking judicial review of Defendant's decision denying
Social Security Administration has established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining whether a
person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a),
416.920(a). The five steps are: (1) whether the claimant is
currently engaging in substantial gainful activity; (2)
whether the claimant has a medically determinable severe
impairment(s); (3) whether such impairment(s) meets or equals
an impairment set forth in the Listings; (4) whether the
impairment(s) prevents the claimant from returning to his
past relevant work; and, if so, (5) whether the claimant is
able to perform other work as it exists in the national
economy. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a)(4)(I)-(v),
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), a district court is required to
conduct a de novo review of those portions of the Magistrate
Judge's Report to which a specific objection has been
made. The Court need not conduct a de novo review, however,
"when a party makes general and conclusory objections
that do not direct the court to a specific error in the
[Magistrate Judge's] proposed findings and
recommendations." Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d
44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).
Thus, the Court will address each specific objection to the
Report in turn. As provided above, however, the Court need
not-and will not-address any of Plaintiff's arguments
that fail to point the Court to alleged specific errors the
Magistrate Judge made in the Report.
Plaintiff's duty both to produce evidence and to prove he
is disabled under the Act. See Pass v. Chater, 65
F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). And, it is the duty of the
ALJ, not this Court, to make findings of fact and to resolve
conflicts in the evidence. Hays v. Sullivan, 907
F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Under the substantial
evidence standard, however, the Court must view the entire
record as a whole. See Steurer v. Bowen, 815 F.2d,
1249, 1250 (8th Cir. 1987).
the substantial evidence standard presupposes a zone of
choice within which the decisionmakers can go either way,
without interference by the courts. An administrative
decision is not subject to reversal merely because
substantial evidence would have supported an opposite
decision." Clarke v. Bowen, 843 F.2d 271,
272-73 (8th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (alteration omitted). Likewise, when
considering a Social Security disability claim, it is not the
province of this Court to âreweigh conflicting evidence . . .
or substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ."
Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir.
2005) (per curiam) (citation omitted) (alteration omitted).
The Court "must sustain the ALJ's decision, even if
[it] disagree[s] with it, provided the determination is
supported by substantial evidence." Smith v.
Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996).
sets forth three objections to the Magistrate Judge's
Report. Plaintiff first objects to the Magistrate Judge's
suggestion the Court reject Plaintiff's alleged errors
regarding the ALJ's consideration of his diabetes and
obesity. Plaintiff claims the Magistrate Judge erred in
determining Plaintiff failed to prove his diabetes
significantly limits his ability to perform basic work
activities. In support of this contention, Plaintiff
maintains the records he cited in his initial brief reference
various symptoms associated with hyperglycemia that can be
expected to impact his ability to work, and he states medical
evidence reveals his diabetes makes him insulin-dependent,
possibly causes diabetic neuropathy, and has required
hospitalizations. Plaintiff argues his diabetes
“obviously cause[s] more than a minimal impact”
on his residual functional capacity (RFC). ECF No. 26 at 2.
also asserts the Magistrate Judge erred in concluding he is
not obese on the ground he provided no medical evidence
showing a diagnosis of obesity. Plaintiff avers there is
medical evidence proving he is obese, including an emergency
room record dated December 2, 2011. Plaintiff notes SSR 02-1p
permits a finding of obesity based on evidence in the record
even in the absence of a diagnosis of such. Plaintiff
contends the Magistrate Judge erred in recommending any error
of the ALJ in failing to provide an explanation regarding
Plaintiff's obesity is harmless because Plaintiff
neglected to demonstrate how his obesity impacts his ability
to work. Plaintiff proffers his obesity alone might not
prohibit work, but the cumulative effect of his obesity and
other impairments must be considered.
Magistrate Judge thoroughly analyzed Plaintiff's
contentions the ALJ failed to properly consider his diabetes
and alleged obesity, and the Court agrees with the Magistrate
Judge's recommendations on these issues. As the
Magistrate Judge explained, Plaintiff received treatment and
medication for his diabetes during the relevant time period,
see ECF No. 24 at 12, and an impairment is
non-severe if it can be controlled by treatment and/or
medication, Gross v. Heckler, 785 F.2d 1163, 1166
(4th Cir. 1986). Furthermore, Plaintiff's references to
evidence of his suffering various symptoms and other
consequences of his diabetes fail to prove the condition
significantly limits his ability to perform basic work
activities, and Plaintiff's conclusory assertions to the
contrary are unavailing. The Court agrees with the Magistrate
Judge's determination Plaintiff has failed to satisfy his
burden of proving his diabetes is a severe impairment under
Court likewise agrees with the Magistrate Judge's
suggestion any error on the part of the ALJ in failing to
provide an explanation of his consideration of
Plaintiff's alleged obesity is harmless because there is
no evidence his RFC assessment would have been different if
the ALJ had provided such an explanation. Contrary to
Plaintiff's assertion, the Magistrate Judge refrains from
concluding in the Report Plaintiff is not obese. See
ECF No. 24 at 14-16. Rather, the Magistrate Judge notes
Plaintiff's records fail to indicate any doctors found
Plaintiff's weight to be a limiting impairment. See
Id. at 15. In her analysis, the Magistrate Judge
specifically considered the December 2, 2011, emergency room
record cited by Plaintiff and referenced the policy on
obesity set forth in SSR 02-01p. See Id. at 14-15.
The Court has reviewed the relevant evidence, and it agrees
with the Magistrate Judge the ALJ discussed substantial
evidence supporting the level of functioning detailed in
Plaintiff's RFC, and there is no evidence Plaintiff's
obesity, either alone or together with other impairments,
renders Plaintiff's functioning more limited than his RFC
indicates. Accordingly, the Court rejects Plaintiff's
Plaintiff's second objection, he complains the Magistrate
Judge erred in recommending Plaintiff does not meet the
criteria for Listing 12.05C, 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subp. P, App.
1 § 12.05 (concerning intellectual disability). He
claims Defendant and the Magistrate Judge “argue that
[Plaintiff] did not meet the requirements of the introductory
paragraph of Listing 12.05C.” ECF No. 26 at 4.
Plaintiff further asserts the Magistrate Judge failed to note
Plaintiff argued in his brief “it is not clear that the
ALJ properly determined [Plaintiff] had no other physical or
mental impairment imposing work-related limitations of
function.” Id. Plaintiff urges the ALJ failed
to explain the alleged conflict between his determination
Plaintiff had no ...