United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division
ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND
AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER
GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
a Social Security appeal in which Plaintiff Lakenisha Dowling
(Dowling) seeks judicial review of the final decision of
Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill (Commissioner) denying
Dowling's claims for continued disability insurance
benefits (DIB). The parties are represented by excellent
counsel. The matter is before the Court for review of the
Report and Recommendation (Report) of the United States
Magistrate Judge suggesting to the Court the
Commissioner's decision be affirmed. 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).
Therefore, the Court need not-and will not-address any of
Dowling's arguments that fail to point the Court to
alleged specific errors the Magistrate Judge made in the
Magistrate Judge filed the Report on May 20, 2019. Dowling
filed her objections on June 3, 2019, and the Commissioner
replied on June 17, 2019. The Court has carefully reviewed
Dowling's objections but holds them to be without merit.
Therefore, it will enter judgment accordingly.
applied for DIB in May 2009 alleging a disability onset date
of April 15, 2019. Report 1. In a decision dated February 10,
2011, an administrative law judge (ALJ) determined Dowling
was disabled as of her alleged onset date noting her severe
impairments of irritable bowel syndrome, aplastic anemia,
arthritis of the right ankle, general anxiety disorder, and
affective disorder. Id.
Social Security Administration (the Administration)
determined Dowling's disability ceased in March 2013 and
her period of disability terminated May 31, 2013 because the
Administration determined Dowling “was stable on her
current medicine and all physical examinations were normal
and there was medical improvement related to her ability to
work.” Id. at 1-2. Dowling appealed this
finding and requested a hearing by an ALJ, which was held on
February 2, 2016. Id. at 2. The ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision on November 3, 2016, and the Appeals
Council denied Dowling's request for review on December
7, 2017. Id. Dowling then filed this action on
February 9, 2018 seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner's decision. Id.
Plaintiff's duty both to produce evidence and to prove
she is disabled under the Act. See Pass v. Chater,
65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). And 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). “It
is not within the province of this [C]ourt to determine the
weight of the evidence; nor is it [the Court's] function
to substitute [its] judgment for that of [the defendant] if
[the] decision is supported by substantial evidence.”
Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir.
1966). In other words, 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). Under the substantial evidence standard,
however, the Court must view the entire record as a whole.
See Steurer v. Bowen, 815 F.2d, 1249, 1250 (8th Cir.
1987). Put differently, if the ALJ's “dispositive
factual findings are supported by substantial evidence, they
must be affirmed, even in cases where contrary findings of an
ALJ might also be so supported.” Kellough v.
Heckler, 785 F.2d 1147, 1149 (4th Cir. 1986).
raises three objections to the Report. Objection 1. Dowling
objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendations that
(1) the ALJ's evaluation of the medical opinion evidence
was supported by substantial evidence; (2) the ALJ's
residual functional capacity (RFC) determination is supported
by substantial evidence; and (3) the ALJ properly evaluated
Dowling's subjective allegations regarding her symptoms.
The Court will address each objection in turn.
first objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation
the ALJ's opinion contained specific reasons for the
weight given to the doctors' opinions and those reasons
were supported by substantial evidence. Id.
Specifically, Dowling asserts “the ALJ did not provide
a sufficient explanation of his rejection of the multiple
opinions of disability to substantially support his findings
and allow the findings to be reviewed.” Id. at
5. This is the same argument Dowling made in her brief
submitted to the Magistrate Judge, see ECF No. 18 at
18-27, and this Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge's
lengthy and thorough analysis concluding the ALJ's
decision contained specific reasons for the weight given to
the doctors' opinions. See Report at 21-22. The
ALJ's reasons for discounting the doctors' opinions
are supported by substantial evidence, and therefore, this
Court will overrule Dowling's first objection.
second objection is the Magistrate Judge erred in determining
the ALJ's RFC determination is supported by the
substantial evidence because the ALJ “failed to
properly consider the effects of obesity and the impact it
had on her perianal fissure.” Objection at 6. As the
Magistrate Judge correctly stated in the Report, “at no
time has [Dowling] indicated [to the ALJ] her obesity was an
impairment that impacted her ability to work.” Report
at 24. Dowling has the responsibility to prove disability and
the ALJ will only consider impairments she says she has or
about which the ALJ receives evidence. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1512(a)(1). The ALJ discussed the substantial evidence
supporting the level of functioning detailed in Dowling's
RFC, and there is no evidence Dowling's obesity renders
Dowling's functioning more limited than her RFC
of her second objection, Dowling also alleges “[t]he
ALJ also failed to explain why the RFC did not include an
accommodation for Dowling's need to be near a
restroom.” Objection at 6. Again, Dowling raised this
issue before the Magistrate Judge, and the Magistrate Judge
correctly explained that while the ALJ did not specifically
address Dowling's need to be near a restroom, “the
ALJ's decision reflects his consideration of
[Dowling's] problems with her colitis and
incontinence.” Report at 28. Dowling bears the burden
of providing evidence establishing the degree to which her
impairments limit her RFC. See Hunter v. Sullivan,
993 F.2d 31, 35 (4th Cir. 1992); 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1545(a)(3). The ALJ provided an extensive narrative
discussion of the medical and non-medical evidence Dowling
presented sufficient for this Court to conclude substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's RFC determination. When
“conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ
as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for
that decision falls on the…[ALJ].” Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Therefore, the
Court will overrule Dowling's second objection.
Dowling objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation
the ALJ properly evaluated Dowling's subjective
allegations. Objection at 11. Again, Dowling raised this
argument before the Magistrate Judge. See Report at
29-31. The Magistrate Judge goes into great detail discussing
the two-step process an ALJ must undertake when evaluating an
individual's symptoms. Report at 29-30. The ALJ
identified this process in his opinion, and he detailed his
findings at step one regarding Dowling's severe and
non-severe impairments, and then detailed at step two the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of Dowling's
symptoms. Tr. 36. Given this Court's limited scope of
review, the Court concludes substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's finding Dowling's subjective allegations
regarding her symptoms were not consistent with the totality
of the objective evidence. Therefore, the Court will overrule
Dowling's third objection.
thorough review of the Report and the record in this case
under the standard set forth above, the Court overrules
Dowling's objections, adopts the Report, and incorporates
it herein. Therefore, it is the ...