United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
SHERRY S. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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 ...