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Glenn v. Saul

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

November 21, 2019

NATONYA MARVETTE GLENN, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION, REVERSING THE DECISION OF DEFENDANT, AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

          MARY GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a Social Security appeal in which Plaintiff Natonya Marvette Glenn (Glenn) seeks judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Andrew Saul (Saul) denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (Report) of the United States Magistrate Judge suggesting the Court reverse the Saul's decision and remand the case to Saul for further administrative proceedings. The Report was made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina.

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the 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 a 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).

         The Magistrate Judge filed the Report on July 31, 2019. Saul filed his Objection to the Report (Saul's Objection) on August 13, 2019. Glenn filed her Reply to Saul's Objection and her own Objection to the Report (Glenn's Objection) on August 14, 2019. The Court has reviewed both objections and each has merit. Nevertheless, the ultimate disposition of the case remains the same. The Court will therefore enter judgment accordingly.

         On February 12, 2015, Glenn filed her applications for DIB and SSI. She contends her disability commenced on August 6, 2012. Saul denied Glenn's applications initially and upon reconsideration. Glenn then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which the ALJ conducted on June 30, 2017.

         On September 28, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision holding Glenn was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Glenn's request for review of the ALJ's decision. Glenn then filed this action for judicial review with the Court on October 1, 2018.

         The 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I)-(v), 416.920(a)(4)(I)-(v).

         Under 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).

         It is 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).

         It is 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).

         “[T]he 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).

         A. Saul's Objection

         Saul objects to the Report on the ground he thinks the ALJ sufficiently explained how Glenn's moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace translated into the residual functional capacity (RFC) finding, is supported by substantial evidence.

         The record for review “should include a discussion of which evidence the ALJ found credible and why, and the specific application of the pertinent legal requirements to the record.” Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2013). Remand is appropriate where “the ...


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