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Hill v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

March 18, 2019

Lee Ann Hill, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         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 Lee Ann Hill's (“Plaintiff”) claim for disability insurance benefits. The record includes the report and recommendation (“Report”) of United States Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McDonald, 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 his Report, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court reverse and remand the Commissioner's final decision for further administrative action. The Commissioner filed objections to the Report, and the matter is ripe for review. 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 to the extent it is consistent with this order and remands this matter to the Commissioner for further consideration.


         Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits on February 7, 2014, and for supplemental security income on March 7, 2014. In both applications, she alleged she became unable to work on September 23, 2013. Both applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and a hearing was held on June 23, 2016. In a decision dated October 4, 2016, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council, and the Appeals Council denied review on October 23, 2017, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. Plaintiff filed this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision on November 28, 2017.

         Plaintiff was 38 years old on her alleged disability onset date and 41 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. She completed high school and has past relevant work experience as a sewing machine operator; sales representative of recreation and sporting goods; housekeeper/cleaner; and office manager.


         I. The Magistrate Judge's Report

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility for making a final determination remains with this Court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). 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. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2); 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. If a party fails to file any specific objections, this Court “need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.” See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation omitted).

         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. ...

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