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Ray v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 25, 2017

Cheryl L. Ray, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Honorable 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 Cheryl L. Ray's (“Plaintiff”) claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). The record includes the report and recommendation (“Report”) of the United States Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker, 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. After being granted an extension of time, Plaintiff filed written 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 14 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 denying benefits.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed her application for DIB on March 7, 2012, alleging disability beginning on October 2, 2002. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On August 1, 2014, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Richard L. Vogel held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on September 11, 2014. Subsequently, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision denying benefits the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review.

         On May 23, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a 54-page Report, which includes a thorough recitation of the facts and medical evidence. The Court incorporates by specific reference the facts and medical evidence contained in the Report and does not repeat this information in this order except to the extent necessary to address Plaintiff's objections.

         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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