United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division
ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND
AFFIRMING DEFENDANT SAUL'S DECISION DENYING
GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
a Social Security appeal in which Plaintiff Patricia
Donaldson (Donaldson) seeks judicial review of the final
decision of Defendant Andrew Saul denying her claims for
Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security
Income (SSI). 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 Saul's final decision denying
Donaldson's claims be affirmed.
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. §
Magistrate Judge filed the Report on May 17, 2019, Donaldson
filed her objections on May 27, 2019, and Saul filed his
reply on June 10, 2019. The Court has reviewed the
objections, but holds them to be without merit. It will
therefore enter judgment accordingly.
December 26, 2013, Donaldson filed her applications for DIB
and SSI. She contends her disability commenced on June 1,
2013. Saul denied Donaldson's applications initially and
upon reconsideration. Donaldson then requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which the ALJ
conducted on November 9, 2016.
5, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision holding Donaldson was not
disabled. The Appeals Council denied Donaldson's request
for review of the ALJ's decision. Donaldson then filed
this action for judicial review with the Court on March 28,
Agency has established a five-step sequential evaluation
process for determining if a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The five steps are: (1)
whether the claimant is currently engaging in substantial
gainful activity; (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 claimant is able to perform other work as it
exists in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), a district court is required to
conduct a de novo review of those portions of the Magistrate
Judge's Report to which a specific objection has been
made. 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).
the plaintiff's duty both to produce evidence and prove
he is disabled under the Act. See Pass v. Chater, 65
F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). Nevertheless, the ALJ is to
develop the record and when he “fails in his duty to
fully inquire into the issues necessary for adequate
development of the record, and such failure is prejudicial to
the claimant, the case should be remanded.” Marsh
v. Harris, 632 F.2d 296, 300 (4th Cir. 1980).
also the task of the ALJ, not this Court, to make findings of
fact and 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, the
Court must view the entire record as a whole. See Steurer
v. Bowen, 815 F.2d, 1249, 1250 (8th Cir. 1987).
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). 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).
lists just two specific objections to the Report. First,
Donaldson states “[t]he Magistrate did not address
[her] arguments about the ALJ's failure to include
relevant and essential evidence in the [residual functional
capacity (RFC)] analysis.” Objections 1.
are three sub-parts to Donaldson's first objection. In
the first sub-part, she complains that, although “an
MRI taken on June 25, 2014, after her surgery (which the ALJ
claimed had resolved her medical problems), did indeed show
improvement in the spinal stenosis seen on the prior
examination. . . . the ALJ failed to note-and the Magistrate
did not comment on-the additional findings in that
MRI.” Objections 2. Donaldson then cites to deficits in
her medical condition listed in her MRI report. Id.
the ALJ must sufficiently explain the reasons for her rulings
to allow this Court to provide meaningful review, Radford
v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 296 (4th Cir. 2013), “the
ALJ is not required to address every piece of evidence[;]
[instead, ] [s]he must . . . build an accurate and logical
bridge from the evidence to [her] ...