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Lollis v. Berryhill

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

September 18, 2017

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



         This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") that this court affirm Acting Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's ("the Commissioner") decision denying plaintiff Jackie Lollis's ("Lollis") application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). Lollis filed objections to the R&R. For the reasons set forth below, the court rejects the R&R, reverses the Commissioner's decision, and remands for further administrative proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

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

         A. Procedural History

         Lollis filed an application for DIB[2] on June 16, 2008, alleging disability beginning on February 29, 2004, which was later amended to April 12, 2008.[3] The Social Security Agency denied Lollis's claim initially and on reconsideration. Lollis requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), and ALJ Avots held a hearing on April 23, 2010.

         The ALJ issued a decision on July 28, 2010, finding Lollis capable of a range of medium work with environmental limitations, and therefore, not disabled under the Social Security Act. Lollis requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council denied Lollis's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Lollis appealed to this court, which reversed the ALJ's July 28, 2010 decision and remanded Lollis's claim for further administrative proceedings. On November 24, 2014, ALJ Harold Chambers held Lollis's second hearing and issued a decision on January 8, 2015, finding Lollis capable of performing a range of light work with postural and environmental limitations, and therefore, not disabled.

         On July 18, 2016, Lollis filed this action seeking review of the ALJ's decision. The magistrate judge issued an R&Ron June 16, 2017, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ's decision. Lollis filed objections to the R&R on June 30, 2017, to which the Commissioner responded on July 10, 2017. The matter is now ripe for the court's review, B. Medical History

         Because Lollis's medical history is not directly at issue here, the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and instead notes a few relevant facts. Loll is was born on February 8, 1954, and was fifty-four years old on the alleged onset date. He has a high school education and past relevant work experience as a machine cleaner and machine tender.

         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. 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 from performing past relevant work; and (5) if so, "whether the claimant is able to perform other work considering both his remaining physical and mental capacities" (defined by his residual fiinctional capacity) and his "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.2d31, 35(4thCir. 1992)).

         The ALJ employed the statutorily-required five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether Lollis was disabled from April 12, 2008, through the date last insured, June 30, 2008. The ALJ first determined that Lollis did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period at issue. Tr. 386. At the second step, the ALJ found that Lollis suffered from the following severe impairments: obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, coronary artery disease status post Endeavor stent to the left anterior descending artery, cardiomyopathy, global hypokinesis, obstructive sleep apnea, degenerative disc disease, and diabetes mellitus. Tr. 386. At step three, the ALJ found that Lollis's impairments or combination of impairments did not meet or equal one of the listed impairments in the Agency's Listings of Impairments ("the Listings"). Tr, 389; see 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined Lollis had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b). Tr. 389. Specifically, the AU found that Lollis had the ability to: perform simple, routine tasks in a work environment with no fast-paced production work or fast-paced work; lift and carry fifteen to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; sit for up to six hours and stand or walk for four to six hours during an eight-hour workday with normal breaks; occasionally push and pull with the upper extremities bilaterally and operate foot controls with the lower extremities bilaterally; frequently balance; use the opposite upper extremity to lift and carry to the exertional limits; occasionally stoop; occasionally climb ramps and stairs but no more than four steps at one time and with the assistance of a single handrail; but must: never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; be able to use an assistive device (i.e. cane) for uneven terrain and prolonged ambulation (defined as walking more than thirty minutes at one time); never crouch, kneel, or crawl; avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat/cold, wetness/humidity, and hazards (i.e. use of moving machinery, unprotected heights); and avoid even moderate exposure to environmental irritants (fumes, odors, dusts, gases) and poorly ventilated areas and chemicals. Tr. 389. The ALJ found at step four that Lollis was unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 393. Finally, at step five, the ALJ determined that, considering Lollis'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. 393-94.


         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. Am,474 U.S. 140, 149-50 (19851. The R&R carries no presumptive weight, and the responsibility ...

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