United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division
Timothy M. Cain, United States District Judge.
Toni Kay Taylor (“Taylor”), brought this action
pursuant to the Social Security Act (“SSA”), 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”), denying her claim for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). In
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil
Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C., this matter was referred to a
magistrate judge for pretrial handling. Before this court is
the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation
(“Report”), recommending the court to affirm the
Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 28). Taylor has filed
objections to the Report (ECF No. 30), and the Commissioner
has responded to those objections (ECF No. 33). Accordingly,
this matter is now ripe for review.
March 22, 2013, Taylor applied for SSI, alleging a disability
onset date of August 29, 2012, due to degenerative joint
disease in knee, degenerative disease in back, depression,
and anxiety. (ECF Nos. 10-6 at 2; 10-7 at 26). On October 8,
2015, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a
hearing and heard testimony from Taylor and a vocational
expert (“VE”). (ECF No. 10-2 at 29-80).
November 27, 2015, the ALJ denied Taylor's claim for SSI.
(ECF No. 10-2 at 10-25). In his decision, the ALJ found that
Taylor suffered from the following severe impairments:
“lumbar degenerative disc disease, status post (s/p)
L5-S1 anterior lumbar interbody fusion with instrumentation,
s/p posterior spinal fusion with instrumentation,
degenerative joint disease of the bilateral knees, s/p
multiple arthroscopic procedures, and morbid obesity (20 CFR
416.920(c)).” (ECF No. 10-2 at 15). The ALJ then
concluded that, despite limitations, Taylor could perform
jobs that exist in significant No. in the national economy.
(ECF No. 10-2 at 23). Taylor sought review of her case by the
Appeals Council. (ECF No. 10-2 at 6). However, the Appeals
Council denied Taylor's request for review, making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
(ECF No. 10-2 at 2). This action followed.
Standard of Review
federal judiciary has a limited role in the administrative
scheme established by the SSA. Section 405(g) of the Act
provides, “the 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). “Substantial evidence has been defined . . . as
more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.”
Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir.
1964). This standard precludes a de novo review of the
factual circumstances that substitutes the court's
findings for those of the Commissioner. Vitek v.
Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971). Thus, in its
review, the court may not “undertake to re-weigh
conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or
substitute [its] own judgment for that of the
[Commissioner].” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585,
589 (4th Cir. 1996).
“[f]rom this it does not follow . . . that the findings
of the administrative agency are to be mechanically accepted.
The statutorily granted right of review contemplates more
than an uncritical rubber stamping of the administrative
agency.” Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278, 279 (4th Cir.
1969). Rather, “the courts must not abdicate their
responsibility to give careful scrutiny to the whole record
to assure that there is a sound foundation for the
[Commissioner's] findings, and that this conclusion is
rational.” Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.
objections, Taylor contends the Magistrate Judge erred in
recommending affirming the ALJ's decision on two grounds.
(ECF No. 30). First, Taylor contends that the ALJ failed to
properly consider all her impairments in combination.
Specifically, Taylor argues that the ALJ failed to properly
consider her carpal tunnel syndrome and her sacroiliac joint
arthropathy. (ECF No. 30 at 1-4). Second, Taylor argues that
the ALJ failed to properly assess her credibility.
Id. at 4-7. Specifically, Taylor argues that the ALJ
erred in finding that the objective evidence does not support
her subjective reports because she required seven knee
arthroscopies and two lumbar surgeries. Id. at 4.
Also, Taylor argues the ALJ failed to explain how he found
her activities of daily living were only mildly limited.
Combination of Impairments
Report, the magistrate judge first addresses Taylor's
argument that the ALJ did not consider her carpal tunnel
syndrome to be a severe impairment. (Report at 15). In her
objections, Taylor contends that the ALJ did not properly
consider her left-handed carpal tunnel syndrome, which was
not treated with surgery, when she is left-handed and the ALJ
limited her to sedentary work requiring bilateral manual
dexterity. (ECF No. 30 at 2).
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
magistrate judge stated (Report at 17), whether the ALJ found
the carpal tunnel syndrome to be severe cannot be the basis
for a remand. An ALJ's failure to designate a
claimant's condition as severe at step two of the
disability determination process, even if erroneous, does not
always warrant remand. Step two is a threshold determination
of whether a claimant has a severe impairment, or combination
of impairments, that meets the twelve-month duration
requirement and significantly limits their ability to do
basic work activities. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520-404.1523. If the ALJ finds no severe impairments,
the claimant is not disabled and the analysis does not
proceed further. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. However, if a
claimant does have a severe impairment, or combination of
impairments, the ALJ must consider the effects of both the
severe and non-severe impairments at the subsequent steps of
the process. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1523; Social Security
Ruling ("SSR") 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *5 (1996);
SSR 86-8, 1986 WL 68636, at *5 (1986). Therefore, if the ALJ
proceeds to discuss and consider the non-severe ...