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Shuler v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

August 23, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.



         This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") that this court affirm Acting Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's ("the Commissioner") decision denying plaintiff Eric Anthony Shuler's ("Shuler") application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). Shuler 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

         Unless otherwise noted, the following background is drawn from the R&R.

         A. Procedural History

         Shuler filed an application for DIB on September 2, 2009, alleging disability beginning on January 8, 2009. The Social Security Agency denied Shuler's claim initially and on reconsideration. Shuler requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), and ALJ Linda R. Haack held a hearing on May 16, 2011. The ALJ issued a decision on' July 28, 2011, finding Shuler not disabled under the Social Security Act. Shuler requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council denied Shuler's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Shuler appealed to this court, which reversed the ALJ's July 28, 2011 decision and remanded Shuler's claim for further consideration of the combination of Shuler's impairments in determining whether his impairments met or equaled the requirements of a listing. See Shuler v. Colvin, No. 0:13-cv-1504-DCN, 2014 WL 4809837 (D.S.C. Sept. 26, 2014). On July 30, 2015, ALJ Edward T. Morriss held Shuler's second hearing and issued a decision on November 3, 2015, finding Shuler was not disabled.

         On February 22, 2016, Shuler filed the present action seeking review of the ALJ's decision.[2] The magistrate judgment issued an R&R on June 29, 2017, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ's decision. Shuler filed objections to the R&R on July 22, 2017, and the Commissioner responded to Shuler's objections on July 27, 2017. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.

         B. Medical History

         Because Shuler's medical history is not directly at issue here, the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and instead notes a few relevant facts. Shuler was born on March 13, 1974, and was 34 years old on the alleged onset date. He has an eighth grade education and past relevant work experience as a dry wall laborer and a drywall superintendent.

         C. ALJ's Findings

         The Social Security Act defines "disability" as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). The Social Security regulations establish a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Under this process, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant: (1) "is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity;" (2) "has a severe impairment;" (3) has an impairment which equals an illness contained in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1, "which warrants a finding of disability without considering vocational factors;" (4) if not, whether the claimant has an impairment that prevents him or her from performing past relevant work; and (5) if so, "whether the claimant is able to perform other work considering both his [or her] remaining physical and mental capacities" (defined by his or her residual functional capacity) and his or her "vocational capabilities (age, education, and past work experience) to adjust to a new job." Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264-65 (4th Cir. 1981); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The applicant bears the burden of proof during the first four steps of the inquiry, while the burden shifts to the Commissioner for the final step. Pass v. Chater. 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995) (citing Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 35 (4th Cir. 1992)).

         The ALJ, employed the statutorily-required five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether Shuler was disabled from January 8, 2009, through the date last insured, June 30, 2013. The ALJ first determined that Shuler did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period at issue. Tr. 600. At the second step, the ALJ found that Shuler suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease status post laminectomy syndrome. Tr. 600.[3] At step three, the ALJ found that Shuler's impairments of combination of impairments did not meet or equal one of the listed impairments in the Agency's Listings of Impairments ("the Listings"). Tr. 602-03; see 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined Shuler had the residual function capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b). Tr. 603. Specifically, the ALJ found that Shuler could lift, " carry, push, and pull up to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; sit approximately six hours in an eight-hour day; stand and/or walk approximately six hours in an eight-hour day; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently balance; and occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; with the need to avoid all hazards such as machinery and heights. Tr. 603. TheALJ found at step four that Shuler was unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 608. Finally, at step five, the ALJ determined that, considering Shuler's age, education, work experience, and RFC, he could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy and concluded that he was not disabled during the period at issue. Tr. 608-09.


         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 magistrate judge's conclusions. See Thomas v. Arn. 474 U.S. 140, 149-50 (1985). The R&R carries no presumptive weight, and the ...

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