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Strang v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

March 31, 2015

Charles Eugene Strang, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ORDER AND OPINION

Plaintiff Charles Eugene Strang (“Plaintiff) filed this action seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This matter is before the court for review of the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn D. Austin, issued in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a) D.S.C. (ECF No. 25.)

The Magistrate Judge recommended affirming the Commissioner’s final decision denying Plaintiffs claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). (Id. at 37.) Plaintiff timely filed objections to the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation. (ECF No. 31.) For the reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS IN PART AND REJECTS IN PART the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation and REVERSES the final decision of the Commissioner denying Plaintiffs claim for DIB pursuant to sentence four (4) of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and REMANDS the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

A thorough recitation of the relevant factual and procedural background of this matter is discussed in the Report and Recommendation. (See ECF No. 25.) The court concludes, upon its own careful review of the record, that the Magistrate Judge’s factual and procedural summation is accurate and incorporates it by reference. The court will only reference herein facts pertinent to the analysis of Plaintiff s claims.

Plaintiff was born on January 21, 1962, and is presently 53 years old. (ECF No. 11-5 at 3.) On March 31, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging a disability onset date of January 15, 2008, due to severe impairments of back pain, positive straight leg raise-bilateral, radiculopathy, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, facet arthropathy, facet hypertrophy, single level far advanced disk deterioration, anterior lumbar interbody fusion, bilateral leg pain, thigh pain-right, tingling in feet-bilateral, internal derangement-right knee, knee pain-bilateral, right knee edema, chrondromalacia patella-left knee, hip pain-bilateral, leg numbness-bilateral, reduced range of motion knees-bilateral, degenerative joint disease-bilateral knees and arthritis, foot pain, prior surgeries-left knee, and neck pain and mental impairment of depression. (ECF Nos. 11-5 at 3; 11-6 at 59.) Plaintiffs claim was denied on August 20, 2010, and again on reconsideration on February 28, 2011. (ECF No. 11-4 at 2, 8.) On March 9, 2012, Plaintiff had a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who found on June 12, 2012, that Plaintiff is not disabled under §§ 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. (ECF No. 11-2 at 21, 31.) Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review on August 16, 2013, making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. (Id. at 2.)

Subsequently, on October 17, 2013, Plaintiff commenced this action in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner’s final decision denying Plaintiffs claim for DIB. (ECF No. 1.) On February 11, 2015, the Magistrate Judge issued her recommendation that the court affirm the Commissioner’s final decision denying Plaintiffs claim. (ECF No. 25.)

In the Report and Recommendation, the Magistrate Judge found that the ALJ evaluated the medical opinions properly under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527, and “that she adequately indicated and explained the weight she assigned to the opinions based on the medical records as a whole.” (Id. at 26-27.) Further, the Magistrate Judge found the weight given by the ALJ to each opinion was supported by substantial evidence. (Id. at 27-29.) With regard to Plaintiffs credibility, the Magistrate Judge found, “the ALJ conducted the proper credibility analysis and cited substantial evidence to support her finding that Plaintiffs subjective complaints were not entirely credible.” (Id. at 33.) The Magistrate Judge found that Plaintiffs argument that the ALJ had failed to perform the two-step credibility analysis was without merit. (Id.) Finally, the Magistrate Judge found no error in the ALJ’s reliance on the vocational expert’s testimony in making her determination. (Id. at 37.)

Plaintiff timely filed objections to the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation on March 13, 2015. (ECF No. 31.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD AND ANALYSIS

The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court reviews de novo only those portions of a Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation to which specific objections are filed, and reviews those portions which are not objected to-including those portions to which only “general and conclusory” objections have been made-for clear error. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005); Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983); Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

The role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme established by the Social Security Act is a limited one. 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 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 de novo review of the factual circumstances that substitutes the court’s findings for those of the Commissioner. See Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971). The court must uphold the Commissioner’s decision as long as it is supported by substantial evidence. See Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). “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 agency.” 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 this conclusion is rational.” Vitek 438 F.2d at 1157-58.

Plaintiff makes two objections: (1) that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding the ALJ had properly weighed the medical source opinions, and (2) that the ALJ did not perform a complete two-step analysis in regard to Plaintiff s credibility. (ECF No. 31.)

A. Weight of Medical Source Opinions

Plaintiff makes several points within his first objection, largely taking the form of disagreeing with the ALJ’s findings. Plaintiff argues he has fulfilled his burden of showing disability “three times over by providing three opinions that establish an RFC for less than fulltime work.” (ECF No. 31 at 1.) Plaintiff further argues that the Magistrate Judge failed to explain how the opinion of physical therapist Paula Bolton that Plaintiff could not tolerate an 8hour day “is consistent with the RFC [Residual Functional Capacity (‘RFC’)], which requires tolerating an 8-hour day of work.” (Id. a ...


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