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Bishop v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

January 19, 2016

Richard Lee Bishop, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

BRUCE HOWE HENDRICKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Plaintiff Richard Lee Bishop (“Plaintiff”) brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) to obtain judicial review of a final decision of Defendant, Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title II and Title 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 Thomas E. Rogers, III, for pretrial handling. On December 22, 2015, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report” or “R&R”) in which he determined that Plaintiff did not show that the Commissioner’s decision was unsupported by substantial evidence or reached through application of an incorrect legal standard. Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge recommended affirming the Commissioner’s decision. (ECF No. 21.) Plaintiff filed Objections on January 8, 2016. (ECF No. 23.) For the reasons stated below, the Court adopts the Report 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. Plaintiff was 38 years old on his alleged disability onset date and has past relevant work experience as a dye cutter, electrical helper, and dump truck operator. (R. at 32.) On October 18, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI benefits alleging a disability since December 19, 2003, [1] due to degenerative disk disease, obesity, recurrent hernias, hypertension, shoulder problems, knee problems, anxiety, and depression, which was denied initially and on reconsideration. (R. at 23, 26.) A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) who issued an unfavorable decision on November 26, 2012, finding Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (R. at 23-34.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review (R. at 1-8), making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff subsequently filed an action in this Court on September 6, 2014. (ECF No. 1.)

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

The Magistrate Judge recommends affirming the ALJ’s decision. (ECF No. 21 at 25.) 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 him 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

Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation (“Pl. Obj.”) on January 8, 2016. (ECF No. 23.) He objects to the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation concerning the ALJ’s alleged failure to properly evaluate the opinions of Plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr. Kurt Gandenberger (“Dr. Gandenberger”).

Very respectfully, this objection is the precise matter raised to the Magistrate Judge and appropriately rejected in his thorough twenty-five page Report. (See R&R at 20-25); see also Hendrix v. Colvin, 2013 WL 2407126, at *4 (D.S.C. June 3, 2013); Jackson v. Astrue, 2011 WL 1883026 (W.D. N.C. May 17, 2011); Aldrich v. Bock, 327 F.Supp.2d 743, 747 (E.D. Mich. 2004). Nevertheless, the Court employs de novo review to consider Plaintiff’s specific arguments.[2]

Plaintiff first asserts that the ALJ erred in finding Dr. Gandenberger’s opinions to be inconsistent with the record. (Pl. Obj. 3.) Here, he refers to the ALJ’s assessment of Dr. Gandenberger’s September 28, 2010 opinion that Plaintiff should be “limited to no more than sedentary work” and “would need to rest away from the work station with his legs elevated” for more than one hour of a workday to relieve his leg edema. (R. at 1592.) In his decision, the ALJ gave significant weight to the portion of the opinion limiting Plaintiff to sedentary work. (R. at 31.) However, he gave less weight to the portions recommending rest away from the work station and leg elevation, finding these recommendations to be inconsistent “with the majority of the medical evidence.” (Id.)

As an initial matter, Plaintiff relies on an unpublished, out-of-circuit case to argue that the ALJ failed to properly “set forth specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting Dr. Gandenberger’s opinions.” (Pl. Obj. 4 (citing Harrington v. Colvin, 2014 WL 441132, at *4 (E.D.C.A. 2014) (finding that “[t]he ALJ’s previous summary of portions of the medical record is insufficient to satisfy the Commissioner’s burden of setting forth specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting the opinion of a treating physician” where the ALJ fails “cite to the record or offer any analysis of the medical evidence in support of [his] position”))). Plaintiff appears to contend that the ALJ should have specified the inconsistent evidence in his discussion of Dr. Gandenberger’s opinions, rather than relying on his discussion of the medical evidence elsewhere in his decision.

Contrary to Plaintiff’s assertion, the Court can look to the entirety of the ALJ’s decision, including the ALJ’s summary of the medical record, to determine whether the ALJ’s assessment of opinion evidence is supported by substantial evidence. Indeed, this Court has recently emphasized that where “the ALJ in total has thoroughly discussed the value of an opinion, expressly and impliedly, ” the Court will not require that the ALJ’s rationale “be all neatly collected proximate to any particular conclusion.” Brown v. Colvin, No. 6:13-cv-2939, 2015 WL 1147039, at *3 (D.S.C. Mar. 13, 2015). Thus, it was not ...


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