United States District Court, D. South Carolina
Nancy C. Moore, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
HOWE HENDRICKS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Nancy C. Moore (“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 her
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 Kevin F. McDonald,
for pretrial handling. On July 8, 2016, 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. 20.) Plaintiff filed
Objections on August 3, 2016. (ECF No. 23.) For the reasons
stated below, the Court adopts the Report and affirms the
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Report 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
her alleged disability onset date. She completed the ninth
grade, attended special education classes, and can read and
write. She has a driver’s license and no limitations on
driving. Plaintiff has past relevant work as a waitress and
January 10, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB
benefits and SSI benefits alleging a disability since January
1, 2009, due to the following severe impairments: lumbar
degenerative disc disease, degenerative arthritis, bilateral
hands, fibromyalgia/polyarthralgia, obesity, bilateral
sensorineural hearing loss, depression, anxiety, and
borderline intellectual functioning. (Tr. at 14.) A hearing
was held before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) who issued an unfavorable decision on
February 14, 2014, finding Plaintiff was not disabled under
the Act. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request
for review, making the ALJ’s decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff subsequently filed an
action in this Court on June 16, 2015.
Magistrate Judge recommends affirming the ALJ’s
decision. (ECF No. 20 at 26.) 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 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
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.
filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on August
3, 2016. (ECF No. 23.) She objects that the Magistrate Judge
erred in finding that the ALJ properly afforded little weight
to the opinions of Plaintiff’s treating psychiatrist,
Geera Desai, M.D. (“Dr. Desai”), and
Plaintiff’s treating rheumatologist, Amir Agha, M.D.
(“Dr. Agha”). Very respectfully, this objection
is one of the precise matters previously raised to the
Magistrate Judge and appropriately rejected in his thorough
twenty-six page Report. (See ECF Nos. 17 at 8-11; 20
at 13-18); 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
treating physician’s opinion does not merit controlling
weight, the ALJ is to evaluate it using the following
factors: (1) whether the physician has examined the
applicant; (2) the nature and extent of the treatment
relationship; (3) the extent to which the opinion is
supported by relevant medical evidence; (4) the extent to
which the opinion is consistent with the record as a whole;
(5) the relevance of the physician’s medical
specialization to the opinion; and (6) any other factor that
tends to support or contradict the opinion. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c); see SSR 96-2p; Hines v.
Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 563 (4th Cir. 2006). However,
the Fourth Circuit has not mandated an express discussion of
each factor, and another court in this district has held that
“an express discussion of each factor is not required
as long as the ALJ demonstrates that he applied the . . .
factors and provides good reasons for his decision.”
Hendrix v. Astrue, No. 1:09-cv-1283, 2010 WL
3448624, at *3 (D.S.C. Sept. 1, 2010); see §
404.1527(c)(2) (requiring ALJ to give “good
reasons” for weight given to treating physician’s
opinion). A district court will not disturb an ALJ’s
determination as to the weight to be assigned to a medical
opinion, including the opinion of a treating physician,
“absent some indication that the ALJ has dredged up
‘specious inconsistencies’ . . . or has not given
good reason for the weight afforded a particular
opinion.” Craft v. Apfel, 164 F.3d 624, 1998
WL 702296, at *2 (4th Cir. 1998) (per curiam) (unpublished
table decision) (internal citation omitted).
argues that the opinions of Dr. Desai and Dr. Agha are
supported by the evidence in Plaintiff’s medical
records and are therefore entitled to controlling weight
under SSR 96-2p. (ECF No. 23 at 1-2.) She briefly summarizes
the evidence that she considers to be consistent with their
opinions, but offers no further analysis. (Id.)
review, the Court finds that the ALJ’s assessment of
the opinions of Dr. Desai and Dr. Agha is supported by
substantial evidence. The ALJ thoroughly evaluated the
opinions of these doctors in her comprehensive twenty-two
page decision. (Tr. at 28-30.) The ALJ noted the factors she
needed to consider when analyzing the opinion of a treating
source and gave “good reasons” for her decision
to not give controlling weight to the opinions of Dr. Desai
and Dr. Agha. (Tr. at ...