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Glenn v. Saul

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

September 9, 2019

Maureen Elizabeth Glenn, Plaintiff,
Andrew M. Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Timothy M. Cain, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, Maureen Elizabeth Glenn (“Glenn”), brought this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (“SSA”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”)[1], denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). (ECF No. 1). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C., this matter was referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial handling. Before this court is the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”), recommending that the court affirm the Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 24).[2] Glenn has filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 27), and the Commissioner has responded to those objections (ECF No. 28). Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for review.

         I. Background

         On May 1, 2014, Glenn applied for DIB and SSI, alleging that she has been unable to work since March 11, 2014. (ECF No. 11-2 at 14). Her claim was denied initially on August 12, 2014, and upon reconsideration on December 10, 2014. Id. On December 7, 2016, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) conducted a hearing and received testimony from Glenn and vocational expert Carroll H. Crawford. Id. On March 15, 2017, the ALJ denied Glenn's claim for benefits. Id. at 28.

         In his decision, the ALJ found that Glenn suffered from lupus and arthralgias, which he determined to be severe impairments. Id. at 16. The ALJ determined that Glenn's impairments to her mental functioning were not severe and produced only mild limitations. Id. at 19-20. Likewise, the ALJ found that Glenn's other alleged impairments, including overactive bladder, gastroesophageal reflux disease, diabetes, pneumonia, vision problems, obesity, insomnia, and fibromyalgia, were not severe. Id. at 22. The ALJ concluded that Glenn did “not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” Id. at 20. The ALJ then assessed Glenn's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and concluded she could perform light, unskilled work as defined by as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), limited as follows:

The claimant is limited to lifting and/or carrying up to 20 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently. The claimant can sit and/or stand/walk for up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. The claimant can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can frequently balance and occasionally climb, stoop, kneel crouch or crawl. . . .

Id. at 21.

         Because of these limitations, the ALJ found that Glenn is unable to perform her past relevant work as a forklift operator, which involved medium, semi-skilled work. Id. at 26. Nonetheless, the ALJ concluded that, based on Glenn's age, education, work experience and RFC, “there are jobs that exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform, ” such as stock checker, price marker, and sales attendant. Id. at 27. Thus, the ALJ ruled that Glenn was not disabled within the meaning of the SSA between March 11, 2014, and May 25, 2017, the date of the ALJ's decision. Id. at 28. The Appeals Council subsequently denied Glenn's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Id. at 2.

         On January 29, 2018, Glenn filed this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 1). On April 24, 2019, the magistrate judge issued the Report recommending that the court affirm the Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 24). Glenn filed objections to the Report, raising two specific grounds: (1) that the magistrate judge erred in adopting the ALJ's determination that Glenn can perform limited light, unskilled work where the ALJ failed to consider the combination of Glenn's severe and non-severe impairments; and (2) that the magistrate judge erroneously concluded that substantial evidence supported the ALJ's final determination at step five that Glenn could perform unskilled light work. (ECF No. 27 at 5, 8). In response, the Commissioner contended that Glenn's objections merely raised arguments already considered and rejected by the magistrate judge. (ECF No. 28).

         II. Standard of Review

         The 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).

         However, “[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.

         III. Discussion

         In her first objection, Glenn argues that the magistrate judge erroneously concluded that the ALJ properly considered Glenn's severe and non-severe impairments in combination before determining that Glenn has an RFC allowing her to perform limited light, unskilled work. (EFC No. 27 at 5). As an initial matter, the court notes that Glenn presented an identical argument to the magistrate judge. (ECF No. 17 at 24). In fact, Glenn cut-and-pasted a significant portion of this objection from her initial brief to the magistrate judge. Compare (ECF No. 27 at 6-8) with (ECF No. 17 at 26, 28-29). As district courts in the Fourth Circuit have repeatedly stated, “an objection that merely repeats the arguments made in the briefs before the magistrate judge is a general objection and is treated as a failure to object.” Jesse S. v. Saul, No. 7:17-cv-00211, 2019 WL 3824253, at *1 (W.D. Va. Aug. 14, 2019); see Nichols v. Colvin, No. 2:14-cv-50, 2015 WL 1185894, at *8 (E.D. Va. Mar. 13, 2015) (finding that the rehashing of arguments raised to the magistrate judge does not comply with the requirement to file specific objections). A district ...

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