United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division
ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND
AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DENIAL OF PLAINTIFF'S CLAIM FOR
GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
a Social Security appeal in which Plaintiff Eddie Lewis Riley
(Riley) seeks judicial review of the final decision of
Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration (Commissioner), denying his
claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). The matter is
before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation
(Report) of the United States Magistrate Judge suggesting the
Court affirm the Commissioner's decision denying
Riley's claim for DIB. The Report was made in accordance
with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the
District of South Carolina.
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976).
The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of
those portions of the Report to which specific objection is
made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole
or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or
recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1). The Court need not conduct a de novo review,
however, “when a party makes general and conclusory
objections that do not direct the court to a specific error
in the [Magistrate Judge's] proposed findings and
recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d
44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).
Thus, the Court will address each specific objection to the
Report in turn. As provided above, however, the Court need
not-and will not-address any of Riley's arguments that
fail to point the Court to alleged specific errors the
Magistrate Judge made in the Report.
Magistrate Judge filed the Report on January 28, 2019. ECF
No. 27. Riley filed his objections on February 11, 2019, ECF
No. 29, and the Commissioner replied on February 15, 2019,
ECF No. 31. The Court has carefully reviewed Riley's
objections but holds them to be without merit. Therefore, it
will enter judgment accordingly.
filed his application for DIB on June 20, 2013, asserting his
disability commenced on April 25, 2012. Riley's
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration.
The administrative law judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing on
Riley's application on May 20, 2016. On June 16, 2016,
the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision holding Riley not
disabled under the Social Security Act (the Act). The Appeals
Council subsequently denied Riley's request for review of
the ALJ's decision, and Riley appealed to this Court on
August 2, 2017.
Social Security Administration has established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining whether a
person is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a). The five steps are: (1) whether the claimant is
currently engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA); (2)
whether the claimant has a medically determinable severe
impairment(s); (3) whether such impairment(s) meets or equals
an impairment set forth in the Listings; (4) whether the
impairment(s) prevents the claimant from returning to his
past relevant work; and, if so, (5) whether the impairment
prevents the claimant from doing SGA. See 20 C.F.R.
'' 404.1520. If a decision as to disability can be
made at any step, the analysis ends there without proceeding
to the next step. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a)(4).
Riley's duty both to produce evidence and to prove he is
disabled under the Act. See Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d
1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). It is the duty of the ALJ, not
this Court, to make findings of fact and to resolve conflicts
in the evidence. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453,
1456 (4th Cir. 1990). The scope of the federal court review
is narrowly tailored to determine whether the findings of the
Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence and
whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standard in
evaluating the claimant's case. See Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971); Walls v.
Barnhart, 296 F.3d 287 (4th Cir. 2002) (citing
Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456). “Substantial
evidence” is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 390, 401.
Thus, the court must carefully scrutinize the entire record
to assure there is a sound foundation for the
Commissioner's findings and that her conclusion is
rational. See Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157, 1158
(4th Cir. 1971).
the substantial evidence standard presupposes a zone of
choice within which the decisionmakers can go either way,
without interference by the courts. An administrative
decision is not subject to reversal merely because
substantial evidence would have supported an opposite
decision.” Clarke v. Bowen, 843 F.2d 271,
272-73 (8th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (alteration omitted). The Court
“must sustain the ALJ's decision, even if [it]
disagree[s] with it, provided the determination is supported
by substantial evidence.” Smith v. Chater, 99
F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996).
first objects the Magistrate Judge failed to consider the
arguments he made in his initial brief regarding how the ALJ
weighed opinion evidence from Nurse Practitioner Jill
Gilchrest. Specifically, Riley argues the ALJ failed to
explain his conclusion “that sit/stand/walk limitations
appeared to be based on claimant's self-related
complaints and not on objective testing.” Id.
at 3. Riley's objection impermissibly asks this Court to
reweigh the evidence. When considering a Social Security
disability claim, it is outside the province of this Court to
“reweigh conflicting evidence . . . or substitute [its]
judgment for that of the ALJ.” See Johnson v.
Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam)
(citation omitted) (alteration omitted). There is ample
evidence in the record to support the weight the ALJ gave to
Gilchrist's opinion. See ECF No. 27 at 7.
Therefore, the Court will overrule Riley's first
second objection is “the ALJ failed to properly explain
how he could sit for six hours in an 8-hour workday, citing
evidence that documented his lower back pain and his need to
constantly reposition himself or sit with a pillow behind
him.” ECF No. 29 at 5. Specifically, Riley asserts
“the Magistrate Judge selectively places more weight on
Riley's report that the pain clinic said he could perform
clerical work than Riley's report that he could only sit
for 20 minutes at a time.” Id. at 5-6. It
appears to the Court Riley meant to refer to the ALJ in the
above quotation, as the Magistrate Judge failed to make any
determination regarding the weight any specific piece of
evidence should be given. Further, this objection is again
seeking to have this Court impermissibly reweigh the
evidence. This Court declines to do so. The Court concludes
there is ample evidence supporting the ALJ's decision to
credit the opinion of Riley's pain specialist Riley was
able to work. Therefore, the Court will also overrule
Riley's second objection.
third and final objection alleges “the ALJ erred in
finding his subjective reports were inconsistent with the
medical evidence.” ECF No. 29 at 6. Specifically, Riley
noted the ALJ “relied on contradictory statements about
the effectiveness of medications (stating that pain
management records showed treatment was effect[ive], but also
stating Riley stopped taking medications because they were
not effective).” Id. There is sufficient
evidence in the record to support the ALJ's credibility
determination. See Eldeco, Inc. v. NLRB, 132 F.3d
1007, 1011 (4th Cir. 1997) (holding courts must show
deference to the ALJ's credibility determinations unless
they are “unreasonable, contradict  other findings of
fact, or [are] based on inadequate reason or no reason at
all”). Based upon the evidence presented, the ALJ's
credibility determination is reasonable, does not contradict
other findings of fact, and is well supported. Therefore, the
Court will overrule Riley's third objection, too.
thorough review of the Report and the record in this case
under the standards set forth above, the Court overrules
Riley's objections, adopts the Report, and incorporates
it herein. Therefore, it is the judgment of the Court the
Commissioner's decision denying Riley's claim for DIB