United States District Court, D. South Carolina
OPINION AND ORDER
BRUCE HOWE HENDRICKS, District Judge.
The plaintiff, Adrian Manigo ("the plaintiff"), brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the defendant, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying his claims for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income Benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rules 73.02(B)(2)(a) and 83.VII.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett for pretrial handling. On November 12, 2014, the magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which she determined that the Commissioner's decision was based on substantial evidence and free of legal error. Accordingly, the magistrate judge recommended affirming the Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 24.) The plaintiff filed Objections on December 4, 2014 (ECF No. 25), and on December 11, 2014, the Commissioner filed a Reply (ECF No. 26). For the reasons stated below, the Court adopts the Report and Recommendation and affirms the Commissioner's decision.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The Report and Recommendation sets forth in detail the relevant facts and standards of law on this matter, and the Court incorporates them and summarizes below in relevant part. The plaintiff was 32 years old at the time of his alleged disability onset date. (R. at 143.) The plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who issued an unfavorable decision on August 6, 2012, finding that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (R. at 18-29.) The Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review (R. at 1-4), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. The plaintiff subsequently filed an action in this Court on November 22, 2013 (ECF No. 1).
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
The magistrate judge recommends affirming the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 24 at 20.) 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 and Recommendation 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 her with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). "However, the Court is not required to review, under a de novo or any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as to those portions of the report and recommendation to which no objections are addressed. While the level of scrutiny entailed by the Court's review of the Report thus depends on whether or not objections have been filed, in either case the Court is free, after review, to accept, reject, or modify any of the magistrate judge's findings or recommendations." Wallace v. Housing Auth. of the City of Columbia, 791 F.Supp. 137, 138 (D.S.C. 1992) (internal citations omitted).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme established by the Social Security Act is a limited one. Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the court may only review whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) ("The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive...."); Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982 (4th Cir. 1980). "Substantial evidence has been defined innumerable times as more than a scintilla, but less than preponderance." Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964); see, e.g., Daniel v. Gardner, 404 F.2d 889 (4th Cir. 1968); Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966); Tyler v. Weinberger, 409 F.Supp. 776 (E.D. Va. 1976). In order for a reviewing court to determine whether the Commissioner based a decision on substantial evidence, "the decision must include the reasons for the determination...." Green v. Chater, 64 F.3d 657, 1995 WL 478032, *2 (4th Cir.1995) (citing Cook v. Heckler, 783 F.2d 1168, 1172 (4th Cir.1986)). The statutorily mandated standard precludes a de novo review of the factual circumstances that substitutes the Court's findings for those of the Commissioner. See, e.g., Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971); Hicks v. Gardner, 393 F.2d 299 (4th Cir. 1968). Accordingly, "the court [must] uphold the [Commissioner's] decision even should the court disagree with such decision as long as it is supported by substantial evidence.'" Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). As noted by Judge Sobeloff in Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278 (4th Cir. 1969), "[f]rom 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." Id. at 279. "[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.
The plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation ("Objections") on December 4, 2014 (ECF No. 25), and the Commissioner filed a reply on December 11, 2014 (ECF No. 26). The plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's recommendation concerning the ALJ's alleged (1) failure to properly evaluate his residual functional capacity; (2) failure to properly consider the opinion of Dr. Judith Treadway; and (3) failure to properly evaluate the plaintiff's credibility. The Court will consider each specific objection in turn.
I. Residual Functional Capacity
The plaintiff first argues that the ALJ improperly discounted his symptoms of conversion disorder, including right-sided weakness and tremors, in finding the plaintiff could frequently reach, handle, finger, and feel. The plaintiff reiterates his contention that the ALJ failed to provide a "bridge" between the evidence and the limitations in the residual functional capacity ("RFC"). This objection is not new; the magistrate judge thoroughly met it, and the plaintiff does not describe any misconsideration. Even still, the Court would say, briefly, the following.
The ALJ discussed the specific evidence of record that supported his findings. As the magistrate judge found, the ALJ "discussed medical records from October 2009 and February through May 2011 that included reports of Bell's palsy, mild weakness of the right side of [Plaintiff's] face, paresthesia and weakness of the right upper extremity, slurred speech, hearing loss in the right ear, and facial droop." (ECF No. 24 at 6.) By March 2012, however, the plaintiff himself "reported his symptoms of conversion continued to dissipate and his speech was normal and he was able to write better." (R. at 26.) The plaintiff's treatment notes related to his conversion diagnosis consistently indicated his symptoms were significantly improved. (R. at 26-27, 468-70, 473, 477, 481.) Even as the records indicated improvement, the ALJ included significant restrictions in the RFC, including limitations to only frequent reaching, handling, fingering, and feeling. (R. at 22, 440-42); cf. Hicks v. Colvin, No. 12-618, 2014 WL 670916, at *18 (W.D. Va. Feb. 20, 2014) (no error in ALJ's restrictive RFC assessment that plaintiff could frequently handle, finger, and feel, as plaintiff's treating physician did not offer specific functional restrictions or limitations and the RFC sufficiently accounted for plaintiff's CREST syndrome diagnosis). The magistrate judge properly found the ALJ's RFC was supported by substantial evidence.
The plaintiff argues evidence that he could not point from nose to finger or perform rapid alternating hand movements. (R. at 382.) The plaintiff was also treated for severe right hemiparesis. (R. at 414-417.) That the plaintiff can produce conflicting evidence, which might have resulted in a contrary interpretation, is of no moment. See Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. ...