United States District Court, D. South Carolina
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
BRISTOW MARCHANT, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff filed the complaint in this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. Â§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner wherein he was denied disability
benefits. This case was referred to the undersigned for a
report and recommendation pursuant to Local Civil Rule
applied for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB")
and Supplemental Security Income
("SSI") on September 21, 2010 (protective
filing dates), alleging disability beginning January 1, 1982,
due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social phobia,
anxiety, arthritis in his ankles, back problems, and wrist
problems. (See R.pp. 20, 129, 137, 187). Plaintiff's
claims were denied both initially and upon reconsideration.
Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on January 9, 2013 (R.pp.
48-65). The ALJ thereafter denied Plaintiff's claims in a
decision issued February 22, 2013. (R.pp. 20-42). The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review of the
ALJ's decision, thereby making the determination of the
ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R.pp. 1-7).
then filed this action in United States District Court.
Plaintiff asserts that there is not substantial evidence to
support the ALJ's decision, and that the decision should
be reversed and remanded for further consideration, or for an
outright award of benefits. The Commissioner contends that
the decision to deny benefits is supported by substantial
evidence, and that Plaintiff was properly found not to be
42 U.S.C. Â§ 405(g), the Court's scope of review is
limited to (1) whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the
ultimate conclusions reached by the Commissioner are legally
correct under controlling law. Hays v. Sullivan, 907
F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); Richardson v.
Califano, 574 F.2d 802, 803 (4th Cir. 1978); Myers
v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982-983 (4th Cir. 1980). If
the record contains substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's decision, it is the court's duty to
affirm the decision. Substantial evidence has been defined
evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to
support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a
mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance. If there is evidence to justify refusal to
direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is
"substantial evidence." [emphasis added].
Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (citing Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966)); see also,
Hepp v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 798, 806 (8th cir.
2008)[Noting that the substantial evidence standard is
"less demanding than the preponderance of the evidence
Court lacks the authority to substitute its own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Laws, 368 F.2d at 642.
"[T]he language of [405(g)] precludes a de novo
judicial proceeding and requires that the court 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).
of Medical History/Background Information
has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, social anxiety
disorder, probable PTSD, and polysubstance abuse. (R.p. 3273,
3276, 3282). In addition to Plaintiff having a history of
alcohol abuse, the medical record also contains notations of
cocaine, amphetamine, marijuana, heroin, opiate, and
benzodiazepine abuse. (See R.pp. 412, 2927, 3917, 3996).
Plaintiff served in the United States Navy from December 1978
to August 1979 (R.p. 671), he has obtained much of his
medical care from the Veterans Administration Medical Center
(VAMC). In February 2011, Dr. Lydiard, a psychiatrist with
the VAMC in Charleston, wrote that Plaintiff had recently
been discharged from hospitalizations in December 2010 and
February 2011 with diagnoses of bipolar I disorder, severe
social anxiety disorder, PTSD, and severe episodic alcohol
abuse. Plaintiff reported that the pattern for his periodic
drinking was generally an onset of mania, often preceded by
worsened social anxiety symptoms of binge alcohol abuse over
two to seven days, stopping his medications such as antabuse,
and that he "comes in" when he is out of money or
sick from drinking. (R.p 1347). In June 2012, Dr. Lydiard
noted that Plaintiff had been hospitalized thirty times since
2001 for suicidal ideation in association with drug and/or
alcohol abuse. (R.p. 3273). He opined that Plaintiff's
"mania and social anxiety both fuel [his] substance
abuse; social anxiety promotes urge to use alcohol and
interferes with [Plaintiff's] ability to participate in
12-step programs with return to alcohol use" and
"PTSD-related hostility is provoked when [Plaintiff] is
put [in a] pressure situation socially." (R.pp. 3263,
May 8 through 22, 2012, Plaintiff was hospitalized in the
mental health ward of the VAMC by order of Dr. Christopher
Pelic as a result of suicidal ideation (R.pp. 2920-2927).
After his release, Plaintiff entered the Second Chance
Recovery Home, a VA assisted living facility that required
attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. (R.pp.
3273-3282). Dr. Lydiard also prescribed monthly injections of
Vivitrol (Naltrexone) to help curb Plaintiff's cravings
for alcohol, and Plaintiff reported benefits from these
injections. (R.pp. 3210, 3260, 3264, 3266). By August 2012,
it was noted that Plaintiff was in a VA work assistance
program and was planning to attend technical college. (R.p.
January 13, 2013, Dr. Lydiard completed a questionnaire from
Plaintiff's attorney in which he noted that Plaintiff had
been his patient since April 2009 for treatment of bipolar
disorder, social anxiety, and alcohol abuse, and that
Plaintiff's condition had existed since June 2000. Dr.
Lydiard opined that Plaintiff's disturbance of mood,
accompanied by full or partial manic or depressive syndrome,
resulted in marked restrictions of activities of daily living
and in maintaining social functioning; deficiencies of
concentration persistence or pace; and repeated episodes of
decompensation, each of extended duration; and that
Plaintiff's chronic affective disorder resulted in
repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended
duration and a current history of one or more years inability
to function outside a highly supportive living arrangement
with an indication of continued need for such an arrangement.
He further opined that Plaintiff's bipolar disorder,
PTSD, and severe social anxiety collectively increased
Plaintiff's risk for alcohol abuse; the endpoint for
worsening of these conditions was return to alcohol ...