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Moore v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 17, 2016

Nancy C. Moore, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          BRUCE HOWE HENDRICKS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff 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 Commissioner’s decision.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The 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.[1]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 cashier.

         On 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.

         REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

         The 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 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 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 objection.[2]

         If a 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).

         Plaintiff 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.)

         Upon 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 ...


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