United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Beaufort Division
Plaintiff Robert Langdon, II (“Plaintiff”) filed this action, seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2012). This matter is before the court for review of the United States Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation (“Report”), issued in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) (2012) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a) D.S.C. (ECF No. 13.)
The Magistrate Judge recommended affirming the Commissioner’s final decision denying Plaintiff’s claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplementary Security Income (“SSI”). (Id. at 24.) Plaintiff timely objected to the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation. (ECF No. 18.) For the reasons set forth below, the court ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge’s Report (ECF No. 16) and AFFIRMS the final decision of the Commissioner denying Plaintiff’s claim for DIB and SSI under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
I. LEGAL STANDARD
A. Magistrate Judge’s Report
The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court that 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 to which specific objections are filed, and it reviews those portions 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 Magistrate Judge’s recommendation or recommit the matter with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
B. Federal Review of Administrative Decisions
The Social Security Act establishes an administrative scheme wherein the federal judiciary’s role is limited. Section 405(g) of the Act provides, “[T]he 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. This court adheres to that responsibility and considers the record, the Report, and Plaintiff’s objections in this case.
II. PLAINTIFF’S OBJECTIONS
One of Plaintiff’s major objections is to the Magistrate Judge’s conclusion that the ALJ “properly discounted” the medical opinion evidence of Plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr. Karen Minner, and Nurse Practitioner, Jerome Mega. (ECF No. 18 at 1-2.)
First, Plaintiff suggests that the ALJ in this case failed to provide any factual or legal reasoning for why Dr. Minner and Mr. Mega’s opinion evidence should be rejected-a failure, he claims, the Magistrate Judge ignores. (Id. at 1.) Plaintiff also specifically challenges the Magistrate Judge’s response that the conclusion of the physician and nurse practitioner was an ‘administrative finding and is therefore a determination reserved to the Commissioner.’ (ECF No. 18 at 6 (quoting the Report).)
As another component of this objection, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly discounted the opinion of Dr. Minner because the ALJ concluded that the opinion was provided in Dr. Minner’s “supervisory” capacity and not in the capacity of an actual treating physician. (ECF No. 18 at 10-11.) Plaintiff argues with the Magistrate Judge’s determination that the ALJ was correct in doing so. (Id.) Finally, Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge’s decision not to consider in his Report the argument 1) that the ALJ inappropriately relied on not being able to understand Dr. Minner’s opinion language as a factor in reaching his decision, 2) that Dr. Minner’s opinion was an actual medical opinion, not a “vocational opinion, ” and 3) that the medical opinions of Mr. Mega, as a Nurse Practitioner, were entitled to more consideration since Dr. Minner co-signed them. (Id. at 11-12.)
The second of Plaintiff’s main objections is to the Magistrate Judge’s conclusion that there was substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s determination based on the Magistrate Judge’s agreement of sufficient contradictory medical evidence from other sources in the record. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff specifically argues that the Magistrate Judge’s conclusion belies the fact that the ALJ “created an inconsistency [in Plaintiff’s medical records] that does not exist.” (Id. at 7- 9.) Plaintiff explains, for example, in his Objection:
. . . [Plaintiff]’s records showed “good lower extremity strength, normal sensation, independent gait, ability to attend appointments alone and without using a cane and ability to drive.” But Dr. Minner never indicated that [Plaintiff] had poor lower extremity strength, had ...