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Sisco v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

January 31, 2019

Nancy Sisco, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY M. CAIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Nancy Sisco (“Sisco”) brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act (“SSA”). (ECF No. 1).[1] This matter is before the court for review of the Report and Recommendation (“Report”) of the United States Magistrate Judge, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C., concerning the disposition of social security cases in this district. (ECF No. 37).[2] The Report recommends affirming the decision of the Commissioner to deny benefits. Id. Sisco timely filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 38), and the Commissioner filed a reply to those objections (ECF No. 39). The court adopts the Report and affirms the denial of benefits.

         I. Background

         On January 28, 2014, Sisco filed an application for DIB and SSI, alleging that she became unable to work on November 6, 2013, due to bipolar disorder, manic depression, diabetic high blood pressure, and plantar fascitis. (ECF No. 21-5 at 258). Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (ECF No. 21-2 at 2, 31). Sisco requested a review by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), id. at 9, and a hearing was held before an ALJ on February 17, 2017 (ECF No. 21-2 at 55).

         On March 29, 2017, the ALJ denied Sisco's claims finding her not disabled under the SSA. Id. at 31-48. The ALJ found that Sisco suffered from the following serious impairments: spine disorder, dysfunction of the major joints, bipolar I disorder, depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, left upper extremity carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes mellitus II, and obesity. Id. at 37. However, the ALJ found that Sisco's impairments did not meet or were not medically equal to the criteria for any of the listed impairments. Id. at 38. The ALJ then proceeded to assess Sisco's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). Id. at 40-47. The ALJ found that Sisco could perform sedentary work with certain limitations and that she was capable of performing her past relevant work as a data entry clerk and accounts payable clerk. Id. at 47. The ALJ, therefore, denied her claims. Id. at 48. On September 11, 2017, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 21-2 at 2-5).

         Sisco then filed this action for judicial review on November 13, 2017. (ECF No. 1). In the Report, the magistrate judge sets forth the relevant facts and legal standards, which are incorporated here by reference. Sisco filed objections to the Report on December 31, 2018 (ECF No. 38), and the Commissioner filed a response to those objections on January 14, 2019 (ECF No. 41). This matter is now ripe for review.

         II. Standard of Review

         The 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).

         However, “[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.

         III. Analysis

         In her objections, Sisco contends that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to account for her moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence, and pace as required by Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632 (4th Cir. 2015); (2) failing to properly consider her upper extremity limitations, which she contends involved both hands; (3) failing to consider her impairments in combination; (4) failing to properly consider Dr. Qureshi's opinion that Sisco required further treatment and that she might have the potential for a sedentary type of job in the future; and (4) finding that her activities of daily living were inconsistent with a finding of disability. (ECF No. 38)

         A. Difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace

          In determining Sisco's RFC, the ALJ found that Sisco had moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence, and pace, as well as moderate difficulties in understanding, remembering or applying information. (ECF No. 21-2 at 40-41). The ALJ determined that Sisco had the RFC

to understand, remember, and perform detailed instructions and tasks; can concentrate and persist for at least two hours at a time on these tasks but not on higher level tasks; can acceptably relate to co-workers and supervisors on a frequent basis, and with the ...

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