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Blue v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 22, 2016

David Curtis Blue, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          MARGARET B. SEYMOUR Senior United States District Judge

         This is 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 (“Commissioner”).


         Plaintiff David Curtis Blue protectively filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) on October 13, 2011, alleging disability since October 1, 2011. Tr. 22. His applications were 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. 31. The ALJ issued a decision dated December 6, 2013, in which she 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 or supplemental security income under Sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ’s decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on January 30, 2015. Tr. 2-8. 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.

         In 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 Jacquelyn D. Austin, for a Report and Recommendation. On July 19, 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. 21. Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on August 1, 2016. ECF No. 23. The Commissioner filed a response to Plaintiff’s objections on August 18, 2016. ECF No. 24.

         This 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).


         The 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 at 1157-58.

         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, 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, 401 (1971).


         Plaintiff was forty-two years old at the time of his hearing before the ALJ regarding his applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Tr. 41. He has a high school diploma and has worked in the past as a loader/material handler, forklift operator, and yarn spooler. Tr. 29, 255-62. He claims disability beginning October 1, 2011, alleging degnerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with radiculopathy, sciatica, and decreased visual acuity. Tr. 24. Plaintiff asserts specific objections to the Report and Recommendation. The court will review each of these objections in turn.

         A. RFC and Credibility of Plaintiff’s Pain Allegations

         Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge finding no error with the ALJ’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination.[1] ECF No. 23 at 2. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ arrived at this erroneous RFC because she improperly discredited Plaintiff’s allegations of pain. Furthermore, Plaintiff charges that the Magistrate Judge “basically parrots those findings, with no true analysis . . . .” ECF No. 23 at 2. The court finds Plaintiff’s objection is without merit.

         In making a credibility determination of a claimant’s allegations of pain, the Fourth Circuit has set forth a two-part test: (1) a plaintiff must make a threshold showing of a “medically determinable impairment which could reasonably be expected to cause . . . the pain that the claimant alleges [he] suffers;” and (2) “the intensity and persistence of the claimant's pain, and the extent to which it affects [his] ability to work, must be evaluated.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 594 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal quotations omitted). Under the first prong, the ALJ acknowledges that Plaintiff’s medically determinable impairments “could reasonably be expected to cause [Plaintiff’s] alleged symptoms.” Tr. 27. However, despite Plaintiff’s threshold showing, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s allegations of pain and found them to be “not entirely credible.” Tr. 27. The ALJ compared Plaintiff’s statements with medical evidence and treatment history from the case record and found inconsistencies. See Felton-Miller v. Astrue, 459 F.App'x 226, 229 (4th Cir. 2011) (“Factors in evaluating the claimant's statements include consistency in the claimant's statements, medical evidence, medical treatment history, and the adjudicator's observations of the claimant.”). The ALJ highlighted the following pieces of evidence as being inconsistent with Plaintiff’s ...

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