United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Beaufort Division
BRENDA L. SMOAK, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration,  Defendant.
C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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
Brenda L. Smoak's ("Smoak") application for
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Smoak filed
objections to the R&R. For the reasons set forth below,
the court adopts the R&R and affirms the
otherwise noted, the following background is drawn from the
filed an application for SSI on December 11, 2013,
alleging disability beginning on January 3, 2007, which was
later amended to August 1, 2015. The Social Security Agency
denied Smoak's claims initially and on reconsideration.
Smoak requested a hearing before an ALJ, and ALJ Gregory M.
Wilson held a hearing on April 15, 2016.
issued a decision on June 15, 2016, finding Smoak not
disabled under the Social; Security Act. Smoak requested
Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision. The Appeals
Council denied Smoak's request for review, rendering the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. On
September 30, 2016, Smoak filed this action seeking review of
the ALJ's decision. The magistrate judge issued an
R&R on October 12, 2017, recommending that this court
affirm the ALJ's decision. Smoak filed Objections to the
R&R on October 19, 2017, to which the Commissioner
responded on November 1, 2017. The matter is now ripe for the
Smoak's medical history is not directly at issue here,
the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and
instead notes a few relevant facts. Smoak was born on January
13, 1961, and was fifty-three years old on the alleged onset
date. She has a high school education and past relevant work
experience as a fast food cook and housekeeper.
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 jwhether the claimant
has an impairment that prevents her from performing past
relevant work; and (5) if so, "whether the claimant is
able to perform other work considering both [her] remaining
physical and mental capacities" (defined by her RFC) and
her "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.2d 31, 35 (4th
employed the statutorily-required five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine whether Smoak was disabled
beginning August 1, 2015. The ALJ first determined that Smoak
did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the
period at issue. Tr. 11. At the second step, the ALJ found
that Smoak suffered from the following severe impairments:
status post hip replacement surgery, obesity, asthma,
diabetes mellitus, degenerative disc disease, arthritis of
the bilateral hands, chronic pain syndrome, ! and depression.
Tr. 11. At step three, the ALJ found that Smoak'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.
12-14; see 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. Before
reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined Smoak had the
RFC to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
416.967(c). Tr. 14. Specifically, the ALJ found that Smoak
was limited to frequently pushing or pulling with her left
lower extremity; frequently handling and fingering
bilaterally with her upper extremities; never climbing ropes,
ladders, or scaffolds; occasionally climbing ramps and
stairs; frequently balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching,
and crawling; avoiding concentrated exposure to temperature
extremes, fumes, odors, dust, gases, and workplace hazards;
and performing simple, one or two-step tasks, with frequent
contact with the public. Tr. 14. The ALJ found at step four
that Smoak was unable to perform past relevant work as a fast
food cook and housekeeper. Tr. 22. Finally, at step five, the
ALJ determined that, considering Smoak's age, education,
work experience, and RFC, she could perform jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy and concluded
that she was not disabled during the period at issue. Tr.
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 magistrate judge's conclusions.
See Thomas v. Arn. 474 U.S. 140. 149-50 (1985V The
R&R carries no presumptive weight, and the ...