United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division
Timothy M. Cain United States District Judge.
Johnavan Elonzo Stevenson (“Stevenson”) 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 his claim for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under the
Social Security Act (“SSA”). (ECF No. 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. 25). The magistrate judge recommends that
the court affirm the decision of the Commissioner to deny
benefits. Id. Stevenson timely filed objections to
the Report (ECF No. 33), and the Commissioner filed a reply
to those objections (ECF No. 38). The court adopts the Report
and affirms the denial of benefits.
November 23, 2015, Stevenson filed an application for DIB
alleging that he became unable to work on January 31, 2014,
due to “bipolar disorder and pseudofolliculitis barbae
and related complications.” (ECF No. 10-3 at 2). His
application was denied initially and on reconsideration.
Id. at 11, 26. Stevenson requested a review by an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”), (ECF No. 10-4
at 11), and a hearing was held before the ALJ on January 3,
2017 (ECF No. 10-2 at 31-79).
August 18, 2017, the ALJ denied Stevenson's claims,
finding him not disabled under the SSA. (ECF No. 10-2 at 8-
23). The ALJ found that Stevenson suffered from the following
serious impairments: bipolar disorder and schziophrenia.
Id. at 13. However, the ALJ found that
Stevenson's impairments did not meet or were not
medically equal to the criteria for any of the listed
impairments. Id. at 14. The ALJ then proceeded to
assess Stevenson's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). Id. at 15-21. The ALJ found
that Stevenson could perform a full range of work at all
but has the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant
is limited to performing simple, routine tasks, but is able
to maintain concentration, persistence, and pace for at least
two hours at a time special supervision. He is limited to
work that does not require interaction with the general
public or tandem interaction with coworkers. He is further
limited to low stress environment work environment that does
not involve rigid and inflexible production requirements,
such as assembly line work, no requirement to make complex
decisions, or a requirement to adapt to frequent changes at
the workstation. Any changes should not only be frequent, but
also be gradually introduced
Id. at 15. The ALJ, therefore, denied his claims.
Id. at 22. On January 9, 2018, the Appeals Council
declined to review the ALJ's decision. Id. at
then filed this action for judicial review on March 6, 2018.
(ECF No. 1). In her Report, the magistrate judge sets forth
the relevant facts and legal standards, which are
incorporated here by reference. (ECF No. 25). The magistrate
judge recommends that the court affirm the decision of the
Commissioner to deny benefits. Id. Stevenson timely
filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 33), and the
Commissioner filed a response to those objections (ECF No.
38). This matter is now ripe for review.
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, Stevenson fails to point to any specific portion
of the Report to which he objects. (ECF No. 33). In fact,
Stevenson does not refer or cite to the Report in his
objections. Rather, he disagrees with the analysis and
findings of the ALJ in several respects. Apparently
dissatisfied with the Report, Stevenson has simply ignored
it, attempting instead to seek re-argument and
reconsideration of his entire case. Stevenson's
objections lack the required specificity and are not entitled
to de novo review. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
Although not required to do so, the court has conducted a de
novo review of the ALJ's determination that Stevenson is
not entitled to disability benefits, including the findings
objected to by Stevenson, and finds, for the reasons stated
by the Magistrate Judge in her Report, that the ALJ's
decision is supported by substantial evidence.
implies that the ALJ erred in his consideration of his VA
disability rating. (ECF No. 233 at 1-2). The magistrate judge
addressed this argument in her Report, and concluded that the
ALJ did not err in his assessment of Stevenson's VA
disability rating. (ECF No. 25 at 12-14). In Bird v.
Astrue, 699 F.3d 337, 343 (4th Cir. 2012), the Fourth
Circuit Court of Appeals held that “in making a
disability determination, the SSA must give substantial
weight to a VA disability rating.” However, the court
also noted that “an ALJ may give less weight to a VA
disability rating when the record before the ALJ clearly
demonstrates that such a deviation is appropriate.”
Id. Here, the ALJ stated that he had considered the
VA's disability rating, but he only gave the rating
partial weight. (ECF No. 10-2 at 20-21). The ALJ noted that
the VA rating was not consistent with Stevenson's medical
records, the opinions of the State Agency psychological
consultants, and Stevenson's demonstrated ability to
perform in an advanced academic environment. Id. at
21. The court agrees with the ...