United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND
AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S FINAL DECISION DENYING
GEIGER LEWIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
a Social Security appeal in which Plaintiff seeks judicial
review of the final decision of Defendant denying her claim
for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental
Security Income (SSI). The parties are represented by
excellent counsel. The matter is before the Court for review
of the Report and Recommendation (Report) of the United
States Magistrate Judge suggesting that Defendant's final
decision denying Plaintiff's claims for DIB and SSI be
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (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. §
Magistrate Judge filed the Report on July 20, 2016, Plaintiff
filed her objections on August 8, 2016, and Defendant filed
her reply to Plaintiff's objections on August 22, 2016.
The Court has reviewed Plaintiff's objections, but holds
them to be without merit. Therefore, it will enter judgment
filed her application for DIB and SSI on May 7, 2008.
According to Plaintiff, her disability commenced on April 24,
2008. She alleges that she is disabled on the bases of
cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease and
spondylosis, migraine headaches, a gastric dysmotility
disorder, and anxiety and depression. Defendant denied her
application initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ),
which ALJ Ivor E. Avots conducted on January 8, 2010. On July
14, 2010, ALJ Avots issued a decision holding Plaintiff was
not disabled under the Act. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision.
Plaintiff then filed an action for judicial review with this
Court on August 10, 2012. Defendant subsequently requested,
and the Court granted, a motion to remand.
the previous case was pending before this Court, ALJ John S.
Lamb issued a decision on March 7, 2013, holding Plaintiff
was disabled as of July 15, 2010. After the Court remanded
the prior case, ALJ Lamb conducted a hearing on October 25,
2013, concerning Plaintiff's alleged disability from
April 24, 2008 to July 14, 2010. On, January 17, 2014, ALJ
Lamb issued his decision holding that Plaintiff was not
disabled during that time period. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's
decision Defendant's final decision for purposes of
judicial review. Plaintiff then filed this case with the
Court on February 20, 2015.
Agency has established a five-step sequential evaluation
process for determining if a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The five steps are: (1)
whether the claimant is currently engaging in substantial
gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a medically
determinable severe impairment(s); (3) whether such
impairment(s) meets or equals an impairment set forth in the
Listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevents the claimant
from returning to his past relevant work; and, if so, (5)
whether the claimant is able to perform other work as it
exists in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), a district court is required to
conduct a de novo review of those portions of the Magistrate
Judge's Report to which a specific objection has been
made. The Court need not conduct a de novo review, however,
“when a party makes general and conclusory objections
that do not direct the court to a specific error in the
[Magistrate Judge's] proposed findings and
recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d
44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).
the Court will address each specific objection to the Report
in turn. As provided above, however, the Court need not-and
will not-address any of Plaintiff's arguments that fail
to point the Court to alleged specific errors that the
Magistrate Judge made in the Report.
Plaintiff's duty to both produce evidence and prove that
she is disabled under the Act. See Pass v. Chater,
65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). And, it is the duty of
the ALJ, not this Court, to make findings of fact and to
resolve conflicts in the evidence. Hays v. Sullivan,
907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Under the substantial
evidence standard, however, we must view the entire record as
a whole. See Steurer v. Bowen, 815 F.2d, 1249, 1250
(8th Cir. 1987).
the substantial evidence standard presupposes a zone of
choice within which the decisionmakers can go either way,
without interference by the courts. An administrative
decision is not subject to reversal merely because
substantial evidence would have supported an opposite
decision.” Clarke v. Bowen, 843 F.2d 271,
272-73 (8th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (alteration omitted). Likewise, when
considering a Social Security disability claim, it is not the
province of this Court to “reweigh conflicting evidence
. . . or substitute [its] judgment for that of the
ALJ.” Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653
(4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citation omitted) (alteration
omitted). Moreover, ”[i]n reviewing for substantial
evidence, [this Court does] not undertake to reweigh
conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or
substitute our judgment for that of the ALJ.”
Id. When “conflicting evidence allows
reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is
disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the
ALJ.” (internal quotation marks and citations omitted.
In other words, the Court “must sustain the ALJ's
decision, even if [it] disagree[s] with it, provided the
determination is supported by substantial evidence.”
Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996).
raises two specific objections to the Magistrate Judge's
Report. The first objection concerns the weight the ALJ
assigned to the opinion of Dr. Stephen F. Worsham,
Plaintiff's treating physician.
evaluating medical opinions, the ALJ should consider
“(1) whether the physician has examined the applicant,
(2) the treatment relationship between the physician and the
applicant, (3) the supportability of the physician's
opinion, (4) the consistency of the opinion with the record,
and (5) whether the physician is a specialist.”
Johnson, 434 F.3d at 654. An ALJ, however,
“may choose to give less weight to the testimony of a
treating physician if there is persuasive contrary
evidence.” Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 35
(4th Cir. 1992).
ALJ's determination as to the weight to be assigned to a
medical opinion generally will not be disturbed absent some
indication that the ALJ has dredged up “specious
inconsistencies, ” Scivally v. Sullivan, 966
F.2d 1070, 1077 (7th Cir. 1992), or has failed to give a
sufficient reason for the weight afforded a particular
opinion, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d) (1998).
Courts are not ...