United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Honorable Margaret B. Seymour Senior United States District
an action brought pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social
Security Act (the “Act”), codified as amended at
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
Erica Anne Prescott (“Plaintiff”) protectively
filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) on November 4, 2014, alleging disability
beginning on March 20, 2011. R. 9. She amended her onset date
to April 27, 2013. R. 326. Her application was denied
initially on March 12, 2015, and upon reconsideration on July
10, 2015. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ held a
hearing on December 10, 2015, at which Plaintiff and a
vocational expert testified. R. 9. The ALJ issued a decision
dated January 12, 2016, in which she concluded that Plaintiff
was not “disabled” as defined in the Social
Security Act. R. 9-24. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance benefits
under Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.
Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's
decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on March 9,
2016. R. 1-4. Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the
“final decision” of the Commissioner. Plaintiff
thereafter brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), seeking judicial review.
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02,
D.S.C., this matter was referred to United States Magistrate
Judge Thomas E. Rogers, III for a Report and Recommendation.
On May 23, 2017, the Magistrate Judge filed a Report and
Recommendation in which he recommended that the
Commissioner's decision to deny benefits be affirmed. ECF
No. 21. Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and
Recommendation on June 6, 2017. ECF No. 23. The Commissioner
filed a response to Plaintiff's objections on June 15,
2017. ECF No. 25.
matter now is before the court for review of the Magistrate
Judge's Report and Recommendation. The court is charged
with making a de novo determination of any portions
of the Report to which a specific objection is made. The
court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the
recommendation made by the Magistrate Judge or may recommit
the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. 28.
U.S.C. § 636(b).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme
established by the Social Security Act is a limited one.
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. § 4059(g). “Substantial
evidence has been defined innumerable times as more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Thomas
v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964). This
standard precludes a de novo review of the factual
circumstances that substitutes the court's findings for
those of the Commissioner. Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d
1157 (4th Cir. 1971). The court must uphold the
Commissioner's decision as long as it is supported by
substantial evidence. Blalock v. Richardson, 483
F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). “From this it does not
follow, however, that the findings of the administrative
agency are to be mechanically accepted. The statutorily
granted right of review contemplates more than uncritical
rubber stamping of the administrative action.”
Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278, 279 (4th Cir. 1969).
“[T]he courts must not abdicate their responsibility to
give careful scrutiny to the whole record to assure that
there is a sound foundation for the [Commissioner's]
findings, and that [her] conclusion is rational.”
Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.
Commissioner's findings of fact are not binding if they
were based upon the application of an improper legal
standard. Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th
Cir. 1987). However, the Commissioner's denial of
benefits shall be reversed only if no reasonable mind could
accept the record as adequate to support that determination.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
was forty-six years old at the time of her hearing before the
ALJ regarding her application for DIB. R. 23. She graduated
from college with a BA degree in legal studies. R. 35-36.
Plaintiff worked as a paralegal until she was laid off in May
2010. R. 36. She then worked as a substitute teacher until
June 2013. R. 243. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: “affective disorder,
anxiety disorder, and diffuse disease of connective tissues,
” but “claimant does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404
Subpart P, Appendix 1.” R. 11-12. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff “has the residual functional capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR § 404.1567(b)
except climb ladders; ropes; scaffolds; concentrated exposure
to extreme cold; and is limited to occasional interaction
with the general public.” R. 14. Lastly, the ALJ found
that, even with these limitations, Plaintiff could perform a
number of jobs in the national economy. R. 23-24. Plaintiff
asserts specific objections to the Report and Recommendation.
The court will review each of these objections in turn.
Objection One: Plaintiff's Credibility
objects to the Magistrate Judge's finding that the ALJ
properly evaluated Plaintiff's credibility and adequately
reviewed the record. ECF No. 23 at 1. The ALJ found
[C]laimant's medically determinable impairments could
reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms;
however, the claimant's statements concerning the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these
symptoms are not ...