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Taylor v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

March 19, 2018

Angelia Paschal Taylor, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          THE HONORABLE BRUCE H. HENDRICKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) seeking judicial review of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”) final decision, which denied Plaintiff Angelia Paschal Taylor's (“Plaintiff”) claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). The record includes the report and recommendation (“Report”) of United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West, which was made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a) (D.S.C.).

         In her Report, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court affirm the Commissioner's final decision denying benefits. Plaintiff filed objections to the Report, and the Commissioner filed a response to those objections. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) (providing that a party may object, in writing, to a Magistrate Judge's Report within 14 days after being served a copy). For the reasons stated below, the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's Report and affirms the Commissioner's final decision denying benefits.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on August 31, 2012, alleging disability beginning on January 15, 2011, due to the following medical conditions: diabetes, fibromyalgia, depression, bipolar disorder, degenerative disc disease, and back problems.[1] Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). A hearing was held on April 23, 2015, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified. The ALJ also heard testimony from vocational expert (“VE”) Robert E. Brabham, Jr. and Plaintiff's mother. On May 22, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff requested review, and on September 26, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. Plaintiff filed this action seeking judicial review on October 28, 2016.

         Plaintiff was born in 1967 and was 43 years old on her alleged onset date of January 15, 2011. Plaintiff completed high school and has past relevant work as a child caregiver, special needs caregiver, gas station cashier, restaurant cashier, and sales associate.

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         I. The Magistrate Judge's Report

         The Court conducts a de novo review to those portions of the Report to which a specific objection is made, and this Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendations contained in the Report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Any written objection must specifically identify the portion of the Report to which the objection is made and the basis for the objection. Id.

         II. Judicial Review of a Final Decision

         The federal judiciary plays a limited role in the administrative scheme as established by the Social Security Act. Section 205(g) of the Act provides that “[t]he 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). “Consequently, judicial review . . . of a final decision regarding disability benefits is limited to determining whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied.” Walls v. Barnhart, 296 F.3d 287, 290 (4th Cir. 2002). “Substantial evidence” is defined as:

evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance. If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is “substantial evidence.”

Shively v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cir. 1984) (quoting Laws v. Celebreeze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)). In assessing whether substantial evidence exists, the reviewing court should not “undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of” the agency. Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (alteration in original).

         DISCUSSION

         I. The Commissioner's Final Decision

         The Commissioner is charged with determining the existence of a disability. The Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 301-1399, 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 result in death or which has lasted or can expected to last for a continuous period of ...


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