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Glenn v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

February 12, 2015

Donna Moore Glenn, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

BRUCE HOWE HENDRICKS, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Donna Moore Glenn ("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 her claims for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") 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 Jacquelyn D. Austin for pretrial handling. On December 23, 2014, the magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which she determined that the Commissioner's decision was not based on substantial evidence. (ECF No. 34 at 33.) Accordingly, the magistrate judge recommended reversing and remanding the Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 34 at 36.) The Commissioner filed Objections on January 9, 2015. (ECF No. 35.) No reply was made. For the reasons stated below, the Court declines to adopt 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 filed applications for DIB and SSI alleging a disability onset date of April 1, 2000. (R. at 159-60, 152-58.) The plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. (R. at 129-33, 135-38.) A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who issued an unfavorable decision on March 16, 2012, finding that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (R. at 9-44.) The Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review (R. at 1-3), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. The plaintiff subsequently filed an action in this Court on August 2, 2013. (ECF No. 1.)

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

The magistrate judge recommends reversing and remanding the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 34 at 36.) 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.

DISCUSSION

The Commissioner filed objections to the Report and Recommendation ("Objections") on January 9, 2015 (ECF No. 35). The Commissioner objects to the magistrate judge's recommendation concerning the ALJ's Listing 12.05C analysis. The magistrate judge concluded that the ALJ had failed to fully or properly (1) consider the plaintiff's educational history; (2) address the plaintiff's intellectual functioning; and (3) explain why he determined certain tests to be more reliable.

The magistrate judges recitation of the applicable law concerning Listing 12.05C is thorough and accurate and the undersigned would not repeat it here.[1]

I. Listing 12.05C

The defendant complains, in three respects, that the magistrate judge improperly found deficiency in the ALJ's 12.05C analysis. More precisely, the defendant says that the ALJ's original consideration of any deficits in the plaintiff's adaptive functioning was proper. The Court would say generally two things. First, the ALJ's decision, broadly, and with respect to this specific issue - deficits in adaptive functioning - was uncommonly thorough. The magistrate judge block quoted this analysis verbatim. The ALJ did two things well. First, he considered numerous aspects of the plaintiff's life and behavior, carefully separating out each relevant skill area for analysis. (R. at 25-287); see Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 309 n.3 (2002) (relying on two American medical associations to view adaptive functioning as including areas such as communication, self-care, home living, social/interpersonal skills, use of community resources, self-direction, functional academic skills, work, leisure, health, and safety). Additionally, the ALJ made some "link" between the factual description of the plaintiff's activities in these respects and his actual mental functioning. (R. at 25-287); see Dozier v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 736 F.Supp.2d 1024, 1037 (D.S.C. 2010).

The magistrate judge was also commendable in her recommendation. Namely, she protected what the undersigned has guarded for years, the importance of evidence of poor IQ scores. And, while the line for a qualifying IQ score under the Listings is an admittedly contrived one - in that, some numerical test score had to be identified as the cut, so to speak - this effort of the Commissioner to so routinely find no disability for individuals with mixed-result test scores is a peculiar regularity. These individuals are almost universally mentally impaired by any reasonable view of that medical word. Of course, test scores are by no means the last word on adaptive functioning. See Norris v. Astrue, 2008 WL 4911794, at *3 (E.D. N.C. Nov. ...


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