United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division
Susan J. Oman, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Margaret B. Seymour Senior United States District Judge
an action brought pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social
Security Act (the “Act”), codified as amended at
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
Susan J. Oman protectively filed an application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) on May 1,
2012, alleging disability since January 23, 2012. Tr. 12. Her
application was denied initially and on reconsideration.
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ held a hearing on November
13, 2013. Tr. 26. The ALJ issued a decision dated January 2,
2014, in which he concluded that Plaintiff was not
“disabled” as defined in the Social Security Act.
Tr. 25. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was
not entitled to disability insurance benefits under Sections
216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff filed
a request for review of the ALJ’s decision, which was
denied by the Appeals Council on March 26, 2015. Tr. 1-3.
Thus, the decision of the ALJ became the “final
decision” of the Commissioner for the purposes of
judicial review. Plaintiff thereafter brought this action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review.
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02,
D.S.C., this matter was referred to United States Magistrate
Judge Paige J. Gossett for a Report and Recommendation. On
June 20, 2016, the Magistrate Judge filed a Report and
Recommendation in which she recommended that the
Commissioner’s decision to deny benefits be affirmed.
ECF No. 27. Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and
Recommendation on July 19, 2016. ECF No. 31. The Commissioner
filed a response to Plaintiff’s objections on August 5,
2016. ECF No. 34.
matter now is before the court for review of the Magistrate
Judge’s Report and Recommendation. The court is charged
with making a de novo determination of any portions
of the Report to which a specific objection is made. The
court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the
recommendation made by the Magistrate Judge or may recommit
the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. 28
U.S.C. § 636(b).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme
established by the Social Security Act is a limited one.
Section 205(g) of the Act provides that “[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 (4thCir. 1964).
This standard precludes a de novo review of the
factual circumstances that substitutes the court’s
findings for those of the Commissioner. 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. 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 action.” 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
his conclusion is rational.” Vitek, 438 F.2d
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, 517
(4th Cir. 1987). However, the Commissioner’s
denial of benefits shall be reversed only if no reasonable
mind could accept the record as adequate to support that
determination. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
was forty-three years old when her disability is alleged to
have begun. Tr. 19. She completed high school and has some
college education. Tr. 239. Plaintiff has previously worked
as a certified ophthalmic assistant. She claims disability
beginning January 23, 2012, alleging vasculitis; inflammatory
arthritis; neuropathy; severe pain, numbness, and tingling in
feet, legs, and hands; diabetes; depression; anxiety; chronic
Achilles tendon tears in both ankles; chronic peritendinitis
in her feet; retricalcaneal bursitis in both feet; short term
memory problems; and cognitive problems. Tr. 238. Plaintiff
asserts specific objections to the Report and Recommendation.
The court will review each of these objections in turn.
Opinions of treating physician, Dr. Niemer
first objection is to the Magistrate Judge finding no error
in the ALJ rejecting some of the opinions of Dr. Gregory
Niemer. ECF No. 31 at 1. According to Plaintiff, Dr.
Niemer’s opinions supported a finding of disability,
especially as it related to Plaintiff’s rheumatoid
arthritis and retinal vasculitis. Id. However, in
his decision, the ALJ stated that he had “accorded
little weight to Dr. Niemer’s opinions as they are not
supported by the weight of the evidence of the record and
inconsistent with his own treatment notes.” Tr. 18.
Plaintiff argues that on the contrary, there is evidence that
“would corroborate Dr. Niemer’s opinions.”
ECF No. 31 at 2. Specifically, Plaintiff points to records
from Elms Digestive, Tidewater Neurology, and South Carolina
Sleep Medicine. Id.
the court agrees that there is evidence in the record to
support parts of Dr. Niemer’s opinions (Tr. 335, 1044,
1075, 1093), however, this is not the relevant inquiry for
the court to consider. Instead, the inquiry is whether the
ALJ relied on substantial evidence in support of his
findings. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). If a treating
physician’s opinion is “inconsistent with other
substantial evidence, ” an ALJ may accord that opinion
less weight. Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 178 (4th
Cir. 2001) (internal quotations omitted). The ALJ found
substantial evidence to be in conflict with the opinion of
Dr. Niemer: First, the ALJ considered the opinions of the
non-examining physicians employed by the State Disability
Determination Services and found them to be in conflict with
the opinions of Dr. Niemer. Tr. 18. Second, the ALJ relied on
several physical examinations of Plaintiff, conducted by
doctors at S.C. Sports Medicine, Low Country Rheumatology,
and Lowcountry Internal Medicine (Tr. 17-18); the results of
these physical examinations were also in conflict with the
opinions of Dr. Niemer. In the face of conflicting evidence,
it is not the role of the court to supplant its opinion for
that of that of the ALJ’s. See Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990)
(“Ultimately, it is the duty of the ...