Pinckney v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration
ORDER RULING ON REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION adopting 19 Report and Recommendation, affirming the decision of the Commissioner. Signed by Honorable Cameron McGowan Currie on 10/14/2016. (bshr, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Sandra Manker Pinckney,
Civil Action No. 1:15-cv-2927-CMC
Carolyn W. Colvin,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
Through this action, Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff’s claim for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Plaintiff appealed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). The matter is currently before the court for review of the Report and Recommendation
(“Report”) of Magistrate Judge Shiva V. Hodges, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rules 73.02(b)(2)(a) and 83.VII.02, et seq., D.S.C.
The Report, filed August 8, 2016, recommends that the decision of the Commissioner be
affirmed. ECF No. 19. On September 12, 2016, Plaintiff filed objections to the Report. ECF
No. 24. On September 16, 2016, the Commissioner filed a response to Plaintiff’s objections.
ECF No. 25. For the reasons stated below, the court adopts the Report and affirms the decision
of the Commissioner.
The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation
has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (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 to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The
court reviews only for clear error in the absence of an objection. See Diamond v. Colonial Life
& Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (stating that “in the absence of a timely
filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must ‘only satisfy
itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the
recommendation.’”) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 72 advisory committee’s note).
The role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme established by the Social
Security Act is a limited one. Section 205(g) of the Act provides, “[t]he findings of the Secretary
as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
“Substantial evidence has been defined innumerable times 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 do 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). The court must
uphold the Commissioner’s decision as long as it was supported by substantial evidence and
reached through the application of the correct legal standard. Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650
(4th Cir. 2005). “From this it does not follow, however, 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 action.” Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d
278, 279 (4th Cir. 1969). “[T]he 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 his conclusion is rational.” Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.
Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on June 7, 2012, alleging disability as of January 15,
2009 due to multiple physical and mental problems, including pain in her neck, legs, and
shoulders; difficulty rotating her neck; swelling in her knees; depression; headaches; diabetes
which affected her eyesight; asthma; and eczema.1 Plaintiff’s applications were denied initially
and upon reconsideration. On November 19, 2013, a hearing was held before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ denied Plaintiff’s claims in a decision dated January 21, 2014,
finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act and had the ability to
perform light work. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s
decision, making the determination of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff
filed this action July 24, 2015. ECF No. 1.
The Magistrate Judge recommends that the court affirm the Commissioner’s decision
because it is supported by substantial evidence and the proper legal standards were applied.
Plaintiff objects to the Report, advancing the same arguments as in her initial brief in arguing
that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that the ALJ 1) properly analyzed all of the relevant
Plaintiff’s alleged onset date for her disability was later amended to January 1, 2011.
evidence and 2) performed the requisite function-by-function evaluation in the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment.
1) Substantial Evidence
Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to analyze all of the relevant evidence as required to find
that the decision was supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, she argues her complaints
to her providers were consistent throughout the medical records, and the ALJ’s decision
overestimated her functioning and was selective in the medical records to which it chose to
afford weight. In examining the ALJ’s decision, the medical records, and the Magistrate Judge’s
Report, it is evident that the ALJ considered the evidence of record regarding Plaintiff’s physical
capabilities and ability to perform light work. The only physician to suggest that Plaintiff is
disabled was Dr. Stoddard; however, this court is satisfied with the weight assigned to this
provider’s opinion for the reasons explained in the Report. Therefore, this court finds that the
ALJ’s conclusions were supported by substantial evidence.
2) Function-by-function assessment
Next, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to perform the function-by-function analysis of
all of the evidence related to the ability to perform work-related activities in order to provide a
Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). Specifically, she argues that the ALJ found her able to
perform past relevant work without making a finding as to whether the functions required by her
past relevant work were precluded by her impairments. However, this court finds that the ALJ
did perform a function-by-function analysis in determining that Plaintiff’s physical limitations
left her able to perform light work, as demonstrated in her medical records and objective
examinations. The ALJ found that Plaintiff was able to lift and carry items weighing 10 pounds
frequently and 20 pounds occasionally, to stand and walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour day, to sit for
six hours in an 8-hour day, and to push and pull occasionally. While the ALJ gave Plaintiff’s
claims of pain some weight, he found her allegations of limitation contrary to the medical
records and physicians’ findings. Further, Plaintiff fails to point to any specific information that
was not considered by the ALJ in assessing Plaintiff’s RFC. Therefore, for the reasons above
and those stated in the Report, this court finds no error in the Magistrate Judge’s finding that “the
ALJ adequately considered the evidence of record in assessing Plaintiff’s RFC and finding she
was capable of performing her past relevant work.”
For the reasons set forth above, the court adopts the Report and Recommendation of the
Magistrate Judge and affirms the decision of the Commissioner.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ Cameron McGowan Currie
CAMERON MCGOWAN CURRIE
Senior United States District Judge
Columbia, South Carolina
October 14, 2016
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