United States District Court, D. South Carolina
Richard Mark Gergel, United States District Judge.
brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g)
and 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial review of the final decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for
Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). In accord
with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 DSC,
this matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge
for pre-trial handling. The Magistrate Judge issued a Report
and Recommendation ("R & R") on June 8, 2016,
recommending that the Commissioner's decision be
affirmed. (Dkt. No. 13). Plaintiff timely filed objections to
the R & R, arguing that the R & R "undervalues
and misrepresents" the opinions of Plaintiff s treating
physician, Dr. Steude, and the Magistrate Judge refused to
consider records submitted for the first time at the time of
the appeal to the District Court. (Dkt. No. 15). The
Commissioner has filed a reply urging the Court to adopt the
R & R and to affirm the administrative decision. (Dkt.
careful review of the full record in this matter, the
decision of the ALJ, the R & R and controlling legal
standards, the Court finds the Administrative Law Judge
appropriately weighed the opinions of Plaintiff s treating
physician, an examining physician and two non- examining and
non-treating physicians in accord with the standards of the
Treating Physician Rule, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527, and there
is substantial evidence in the record to support the decision
of the Commissioner that at the relevant time period at issue
in this matter the Plaintiff retained the Residual Functional
Capacity to perform light work. The Court further finds that
the R & R correctly concluded that the newly submitted
records were appropriately not included in the record under
the standards set forth in the Sixth Sentence of 42 U.S.C.
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. The Court
may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the
recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. §
role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme
established by the Social Security Act is a limited one. The
Act provides that 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 preponderance."
Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543
(4th Cir. 1964). This standard precludes de novo
review of the factual circumstances that substitutes the
Court's findings of fact for those of the Commissioner.
Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157, 1157 (4th Cir. 1971).
the federal court's review role is a limited one,
"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." Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d278, 279 (4th
Cir, 1969). Further, the Commissioner's findings of fact
are not binding if they were based upon the application of an
improper legal standard. Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d
514, 519 (4th Cir. 1987).
the regulations of the Social Security Administration, the
Commissioner is obligated to consider all medical evidence
and the opinions of medical sources, including treating
physicians. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(b). This includes the
duty to "evaluate every medical opinion we
receive." Id. § 404.1527(c). Special
consideration is to be given to the opinions of treating
physicians of the claimant, based on the view that
"these sources are likely to be the medical
professionals most able to provide a detailed, longitudinal
picture of [the claimant's] medical impairment(s) and may
bring a unique perspective to the medical evidence that
cannot be obtained from objective medical findings alone or
from reports of individual examinations, such as consultative
examinations or brief hospitalizations." Id.
§ 404.1527(c)(2). Further, the Commissioner is obligated
to "give more weight to a source who has examined the
claimant than to the opinion of a source who has not."
Id. § 404.1527(c)(1).
some circumstances, the opinions of the treating physicians
are to be accorded controlling weight. Even where the
opinions of the treating physicians of the claimant are not
accorded controlling weight, the Commissioner is obligated to
weigh all medical opinions in light of a broad range
of factors, including the examining relationship, the
treatment relationship, length of treatment, nature and
extent of the treatment relationship, supportability of the
opinions in the medical record, consistency, and whether the
treating physician was a specialist. Id.,
§§ 404.1527(c)(l)-(5). The Commissioner is
obligated to weigh the findings and opinions of treating
physicians and to give "good reasons" in the
written decision for the weight given to a treating
source's opinions. SSR 96-2P, 61 Fed. Reg. 34490, 34492
(July 2, 1996). Further, since the Commissioner recognizes
that the non-examining expert has "no treating or
examining relationship" with the claimant, she pledges
to consider their supporting explanations for their opinions
and "the degree to which these opinions consider all of
the pertinent evidence in your claim, including opinions of
treating and examining sources." § 404.1527(c)(3).
claimant may offer new and material evidence to the District
Court in support of a motion for remand if certain
prerequisites are met. These include: (1) the new evidence is
relevant to the time period at issue in the claim; (2) the
new evidence is material, meaning that the outcome might
reasonably have been different with this additional evidence;
(3) there is good cause for failure to submit the evidence
when the claim was before the Commissioner; and (4) there
must be a general showing of the nature of the new evidence.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Borders v.
Heckler, 777 F.2d 954, 955 (4th Cir. 1985).
who had been working as a hospice nurse, walked off the job
on or about March 12, 2012, reportedly because of certain
physical and psychological factors, and asserts that event
marked the onset of her disability period. Transcript of
Record ("Tr.") 17. She applied for DIB, which
carried a last insured date of March 31, 2013. Id.
Thus, the issue presented in this disability claim is whether
Plaintiff possessed the residual functional capacity for
qualifying work under the Social Security Act during the
period beginning on March 12, 2012 and extending to March 31,
has been under the care of a psychiatrist, Dr. Philip Steude,
since August 2015, and treated Plaintiff during the relevant
time period. He evaluated Plaintiff in his office on March
16, 2012, and documented the episode of her walking off the
job. At that time he anticipated she would return to work in
a matter of weeks, but recognized that her diagnosed
depression might be greater than immediately appreciated. Tr.
295. Dr. Steude saw Plaintiff again eleven days later, on
March 27, 2012, and noted problems she was experiencing with
a boyfriend. Id. Dr. Steude documented in a May 21,
2012 office note that Plaintiffs anxiety was "ok"
and "back to normal" and her mental status exam was
within normal limits. Tr. 301.
Steude documented in office notes in August 2012, October
2012 and January 2013 difficulties that Plaintiff was having
in a relationship with a boyfriend. The record indicated that
the patient was experiencing what Dr. Steude described as
"paranoia, " with references to a "plot"
involving the boyfriend and a former girlfriend. Despite
these difficulties, Dr. Steude again noted on January ...