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Robinson v. Berryhill

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

February 7, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.



         This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Shiva Hodges's Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) that this court affirm the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) to deny plaintiff Sherry S. Robinson's (“Robinson”) application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and social security insurance benefits (“SSI”). For the reasons set forth below, the court rejects the R&R, and reverses and remands the Commissioner's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Robinson filed an application for SSI and DIB on April 24, 2013. Tr. 14. In each application, Robinson alleged disability beginning February 5, 2014 (“the alleged onset date”). Id. The Social Security Agency denied Robinson's claim initially and on reconsideration. Id. Robinson requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and ALJ Gregory M. Wilson held a hearing on July 24, 2015. Tr. 43-85.

         During the hearing, Robinson's attorney moved to amend her alleged onset date to February 5, 2014. Tr. 46. The ALJ issued a decision on September 8, 2015, finding that Robinson was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Tr. 14-33. Robinson requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council declined Robinson's request, Tr. 1-9, rendering the ALJ's decision the final action of the Commissioner.

         On November 15, 2016, Robinson filed this action seeking review of the ALJ's decision. The magistrate judge issued the R&R on August 10, 2017, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ's decision. Robinson filed objections to the R&R on August 24, 2017, and the Commissioner responded to Robinson's objections on September 6, 2017. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.

         B. Medical History

         Because Robinson's medical history is not directly at issue here, the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and instead notes a few relevant facts. Robinson was born on February 5, 1964 and was 50 years old at the time of her amended alleged disability onset date. She was 51 years old at the time of the ALJ hearing. She communicates in English. She completed high school and one year of college. Tr. 50. Her past relevant work was a teacher's aide and a school bus driver. Tr. 80.

         C. ALJ's Findings

         The ALJ employed the statutorily-required five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether Robinson had been under a disability since the alleged onset date. The ALJ first determined that Robinson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the relevant period. Tr. 16. At step two, the ALJ found that Robinson suffered from the following severe impairments: obesity, carpal tunnel syndrome, left shoulder impairment, cervical spine impairment, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that Robinson's impairments or combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in the Agency's Listings of Impairments (“the Listings”). Tr. 17-20. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined Robinson had the residual function capacity (“RFC”) to perform “medium work” with several limitations. Tr. 20. Specifically, the ALJ found that Robinson could lift and carry fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently; she could stand or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday, and she could sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; she could frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; she could frequently climb ramps and stairs but can only occasionally climb ladders ropes, and scaffolds; she could frequently overhead reach, handle, and finger; she should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards; she could perform simple, one-to-two step tasks and she would require a job with no public contact. Tr. 20-21. The ALJ found at step four that Robinson was not capable of performing her past relevant work as a bus driver and teacher's aide, but that based on her age, education, work experience, and RFC, Robinson could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 31. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Robinson had not been under a disability within the meaning of the Act since the alleged onset date.


         This 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).

         Judicial 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 ...

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