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Wilson v. Berryhill

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

November 3, 2017

Sharon Wilson, obo MJS, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Timothy M. Cain United States District Judge

         The plaintiff, Sharon Wilson (“Wilson”), brought this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (“SSA”), Section 205(g), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying her claim for child's supplemental security income (“SSI”) on behalf of her son, MJS. (ECF No. 1). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C., this matter was referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial handling. Before this court is the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”), recommending that the court affirm the Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 25).[1] Wilson filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 27), and the Commissioner responded to those objections (ECF No. 29). Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for review.

         BACKGROUND

         Wilson applied for SSI on behalf of her child, MJS, on April 14, 2011, alleging a disability beginning on February 1, 2009. (ECF No. 19 at 2). Wilson's application was denied initially, upon reconsideration, and by the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision on September 13, 2013. (ECF No. 15-2 at 22). The Appeals Council remanded for further proceedings in 2015, and a hearing was held on October 22, 2015 before an ALJ. Id. The mother and child both testified at the hearing. Id. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 23, 2015, finding that MJS was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Id. Wilson filed a request for review of the ALJ decision. Id. The Appeals Council denied this request for review on November 1, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. Id. Wilson filed this action on November 28, 2016, seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision. (ECF No. 1).

         In his decision, the ALJ found that MJS has never engaged in substantial gainful activity and that he suffers from the following severe impairments: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). (ECF No. 15-2 at 25). The ALJ found that, despite MJS's limitations, he 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 B, Appendix 1. Id. Furthermore, the ALJ found that MJS does not have an impairment that functionally equals the severity of the listings in 20 CFR 416.924(d) or in 416.926(a). Id. Wilson sought review of her case (on behalf of her son) by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied Wilson's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6). This action followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The federal judiciary has a limited role in the administrative scheme established by the SSA. Section 405(g) of the Act provides, “the 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). “Substantial evidence has been defined . . . 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). Thus, in its review, the court may not “undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] own judgment for that of the [Commissioner].” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996).

         However, “[f]rom this it does not follow . . . that the findings of the administrative agency are to be mechanically accepted. The statutorily granted right of review contemplates more than an uncritical rubber stamping of the administrative agency.” Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278, 279 (4th Cir. 1969). Rather, “the 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 this conclusion is rational.” Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.

         DISCUSSION

         In this appeal of the Commissioner's decision, Wilson argues that the ALJ erred in failing to find marked limitations in the domains of “Attending and Completing Tasks” and “Interacting and Relating with Others, ” or, in the alternative, in failing to find an extreme limitation in the domain of “Interacting and Relating with Others.” (ECF No. 19 at 6). Likewise, Wilson's objections only focused on these two domains. (ECF No. 27).

         In her objections to the Report, Wilson contends that the magistrate judge and the ALJ erred by finding that the mixed and contradictory assessments of MJS's condition provided substantial evidence that supported the Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 27 at 1). Wilson further contends that the magistrate judge's Report “constitute[d] merely a recital of the evidence favorable to the Commissioner and does not examine the entire record as required.” (ECF No. 27 at 3). The court finds that Wilson's remaining objections merely repeat the arguments that she raised to the magistrate judge.[2] See Nichols v. Colvin, No. 2:14-cv-50, 2015 UL 1185894, at *8 (E.D. Va. Mar. 13, 2015) (finding that the rehashing of arguments raised to the magistrate judge does not comply with the requirement to file specific objections). Therefore, this discussion focuses only on Wilson's two specific objections.

         I.

         First, Wilson alleges that the magistrate judge and the ALJ erred in finding that the mixed and contradictory assessments of MJS's condition provided substantial evidence that supported the Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 27 at 1). Wilson contends that while the evidence conflicts in some instances that these contradictions favor a decision of MJS being disabled. (ECF No. 27 at 2).

         This court is not charged with conducting a de novo review of the facts of the case and determining the weight it would give each contradicting assessment. In fact, on review of this issue, this court must not “undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] own judgment ...


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