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Griffin v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

November 16, 2017

TANGIE GRIFFIN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DENIAL OF PLAINTIFF'S CLAIM FOR BENEFITS

          MARY GEIGER LEWIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a Social Security appeal in which Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of Defendant denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). The parties are represented by excellent counsel. The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (Report) of the United States Magistrate Judge suggesting to the Court Defendant's decision denying Plaintiff's claim for DIB be affirmed. The Report was made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina.

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objection is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         The Magistrate Judge filed the Report on October 16, 2017. ECF No. 27. Plaintiff filed objections on October 31, 2017, ECF No. 28, and Defendant replied on November 9, 2017, ECF No. 29. The Court has carefully reviewed Plaintiff's objections but holds them to be meritless. Therefore, it will enter judgment accordingly.

         Plaintiff filed her application for DIB in April 2011, asserting her disability commenced on March 24, 2011. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. The administrative law judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing on Plaintiff's application on January 31, 2013. On June 13, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision holding Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act (the Act). The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision, and Plaintiff appealed to this Court.

         Upon Defendant's motion and without objection from Plaintiff, this Court remanded the case to Defendant under sentence six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) on March 2, 2015. The Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's 2013 decision, and the ALJ held a second hearing to review Plaintiff's application on February 5, 2016. The ALJ issued a decision on July 26, 2016, holding once again Plaintiff was not disabled. Upon Defendant's motion and with Plaintiff's consent, this Court reopened the case on December 12, 2016.

         The Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The five steps are: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaging in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a medically determinable severe impairment(s); (3) whether such impairment(s) meets or equals an impairment set forth in the Listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevents the claimant from returning to his past relevant work; and, if so, (5) whether the claimant is able to perform other work as it exists in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a)(4)(I)-(v), 416.920(a)(4)(I)-(v).

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), a district court is required to conduct a de novo review of those portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report to which a specific objection has been made. The Court need not conduct a de novo review, however, Awhen a party makes general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the [Magistrate Judge's] proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). Thus, the Court will address each specific objection to the Report in turn. As provided above, however, the Court need not-and will not-address any of Plaintiff's arguments that fail to point the Court to alleged specific errors the Magistrate Judge made in the Report.

         It is Plaintiff's duty both to produce evidence and to prove she is disabled under the Act. See Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). And, it is the duty of the ALJ, not this Court, to make findings of fact and to resolve conflicts in the evidence. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Under the substantial evidence standard, however, the Court must view the entire record as a whole. See Steurer v. Bowen, 815 F.2d, 1249, 1250 (8th Cir. 1987).

         Additionally, the substantial evidence standard presupposes a zone of choice within which the decisionmakers can go either way, without interference by the courts. An administrative decision is not subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision.” Clarke v. Bowen, 843 F.2d 271, 272-73 (8th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted) (alteration omitted). Likewise, when considering a Social Security disability claim, it is not the province of this Court to “reweigh conflicting evidence . . . or substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ.” Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citation omitted) (alteration omitted). The Court Amust sustain the ALJ's decision, even if [it] disagree[s] with it, provided the determination is supported by substantial evidence.” Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996).

         Plaintiff's objections primarily constitute a rehashing of the arguments she presented in her brief. Plaintiff phrases her objection to the Report as follows:

         Objection 1Residual Functional Capacity. The RFC assessment must be a reasoned assessment of all of the relevant evidence. In this case the ALJ's RFC discussion precludes vocationally relevant limitations. Where the ALJ fails to reconcile all of the evidence, is it proper for the Magistrate Judge to allow the decision to stand?

         ECF No. 28 at 1. The issue Plaintiff framed and addressed in her brief in support of her appeal was:

Issue 1Residual Functional Capacity. The RFC assessment must be a reasoned assessment of all of the relevant evidence. In this case the ALJ's RFC discussion precludes vocationally relevant limitations. Can an ALJ's RFC that fails to ...

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