United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge
Paige Gossett's Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”) that this court affirm Acting
Commissioner of Social Security Nancy Berryhill's
(“the Commissioner”) decision denying claimant
Andrea Mercena Morris's (“Morris”)
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). Morris filed objections to the R&R.
For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the R&R
and affirms the Commissioner's decision.
initially filed for DIB on July 14, 2008, alleging disability
beginning January 1, 2008. Tr 20. The Social Security
Administration denied Morris's claim initially and upon
reconsideration. Id. Morris requested a hearing
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and
ALJ Christine E. Dibble (“ALJ Dibble”) held a
hearing on June 29, 2010. Tr. 30-47. ALJ Dibble issued a
decision on November 1, 2010, finding that Morris was not
disabled under the Social Security Act (the
“Act”). Id. 20-27. Morris requested
Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision.
Id. at 105. The Appeals Council denied Morris's
request for review, rendering ALJ Dibble's decision the
final action of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-6. Morris appealed
ALJ Dibble's decision to this court, which remanded for
further evaluation of opinions of Dr. Jill Peterson. Tr.
487-508. Upon remand, the Appeals Council directed the ALJ to
further proceedings consistent with the order of this court.
December 3, 2014, a second hearing was held where Morris
appeared via video teleconference before ALJ Roseanne P.
Gudzan (“ALJ”). Tr. 439-65. On February 13, 2015,
the ALJ again issued a decision finding that Morris was not
disabled. Tr. 413- 32. On April 23, 2015, Morris filed a
request for review with the Appeals Council. Id. at
399-407. On April 14, 2016, the Appeals Council denied
review, making the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review.
Id. at 396-97.
filed the present action seeking review of the ALJ's
decision on June 17, 2016. ECF No. 1. The magistrate judge
issued an R&R on July 24, 2017 recommending ALJ's
decision be affirmed. ECF No. 17. Morris filed objections to
the R&R on August 7, 2017, to which the Commissioner
responded on August 17, 2017. The matter is now ripe for the
Morris's medical history is not directly at issue here,
the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and
instead notes a few relevant facts. Morris was born on August
26, 1961 and was 48 years old at the time of her alleged
disability onset date. Tr. 430. She communicates in English
and has obtained a high school degree education. Her past
relevant work experience was as a cashier, a factory
inspector, a sewing machine operator, and a small business
owner of an arcade. Tr. 129, 134.
employed the statutorily-required five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine whether Morris was disabled
from January 1, 2008 through the date last insured, June 30,
2010. The ALJ first determined that Morris did not engage in
substantial gainful activity during the relevant period. Tr.
418. At the second step, the ALJ found that Morris suffered
from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc
disease status post cervical spine fusion with cervical
radiculopathy, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, chronic
kidney disease, headaches, renal osteodystrophy, and anemia.
Id. At step three, the ALJ found that Morris's
impairments or combination of impairments did not meet or
medically equal one of the listed impairments in the
Agency's Listings of Impairments (“the
Listings”). Tr. 418-20. See 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. Before reaching the fourth step,
the ALJ determined Morris had the residual function capacity
(“RFC”) to perform sedentary work with several
limitations. Tr. 422. Specifically, the ALJ found that Morris
could only engage in sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(a), except she could occasionally climb ramps or
stairs and stoop but could never kneel, crouch, crawl, climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds, balance for safety on dangerous
surfaces, or have exposure to workplace hazards such as
unprotected heights and dangerous machinery and parts.
Id. The ALJ also found that Morris could
occasionally reach overhead and frequently reach out
bilaterally and frequently handle and finger bilaterally. The
ALJ found at step four that Morris was not capable of
performing past relevant work. Id. Finally, at step
five, the ALJ determined that, considering Morris's age,
education, work experience, and RFC, she could perform jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr.
430-31. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Morris had not been
under a disability within the meaning of the Act since the
alleged onset date.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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 conclusions of the magistrate judge.
See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149-50 (1985). The
recommendation of the magistrate judge carries no presumptive
weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination
rests with this court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S.
261, 270-71 (1976).
review of the Commissioner's final decision regarding
disability benefits “is limited to determining whether
the findings of the [Commissioner] are supported by
substantial evidence and whether the correct law was
applied.” Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453,
1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is “more
than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less
than a preponderance.” Id. (internal citations
omitted). “[I]t is not within the province of a
reviewing court to determine the weight of the evidence, nor
is it the court's function to substitute its judgment for
that of the [Commissioner] if his decision is supported by
substantial evidence.” Id. Where conflicting
evidence “allows reasonable minds to differ as to
whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that
decision falls on the [ALJ], ” not on the reviewing
court. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 ...