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Laws v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

June 13, 2017

Mark Allen Laws, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Bruce Howe Hendricks United States District Judge.

         This is an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) seeking judicial review of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”) final decision, which denied Plaintiff Mark A. Laws' (“Plaintiff”) claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The record includes the report and recommendation (“Report”) of the United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West, which was made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a) (D.S.C.).

         In her Report, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court affirm the Commissioner's final decision denying benefits. Plaintiff filed timely objections to the Report, and the Commissioner filed a response to those objections. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) (providing that a party may object, in writing, to a Magistrate Judge's Report within fourteen days after being served a copy). For the reasons stated below, the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's Report and affirms the Commissioner's final decision.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed for DIB and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), alleging a disability onset date of November 1, 2009. Both of Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which occurred on July 17, 2015. After hearing Plaintiff's testimony and the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for DIB in a decision dated August 17, 2015.[1] Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request on January 4, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review.

         Plaintiff was born on April 8, 1968, and was 41 years old as of his alleged onset date of disability, November 1, 2009. Plaintiff completed high school and has past relevant work experience as a director of training and development, a service manager, and a human resources manager. In his form Disability Report-Adult, Plaintiff indicated that he stopped working on November 1, 2009, to care for his ill mother. He also indicated that his conditions of Stage III colon cancer, HIV, diverticulitis, and high blood pressure limited his ability to work.[2]

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         I. The Magistrate Judge's Report

         The Court conducts a de novo review to those portions of the Report to which a specific objection is made, and this Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendations contained in the Report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Any written objection must specifically identify the portion of the Report to which the objection is made and the basis for the objection. Id.

         II. Judicial Review of a Final Decision

         The federal judiciary plays a limited role in the administrative scheme as established by the Social Security Act. Section 205(g) of the Act provides that “[t]he 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). “Consequently, judicial review . . . of a final decision regarding disability benefits is limited to determining whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied.” Walls v. Barnhart, 296 F.3d 287, 290 (4th Cir. 2002). “Substantial evidence” is defined as:

evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance. If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is “substantial evidence.”

Shively v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cir. 1984) (quoting Laws v. Celebreeze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)). In assessing whether substantial evidence exists, the reviewing court should not “undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of” the agency. ...


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