United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division
ORDER AND OPINION
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
Freda Lydia protectively filed applications for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) on September 20, 2005,
alleging disability since May 1, 2005. R. 69, 70, 94-99,
100-06. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially
and upon reconsideration. R. 73-77, 81-82, 84-85. Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), which was initially held on January 22,
2009, before ALJ Gregory Wilson. R. 30-68. The ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision dated March 12, 2009, in which he
concluded that the Plaintiff was not “disabled”
as defined in the Social Security Act. R. 6-22. Accordingly,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to DIB or
SSI under Sections 216(i), 223(d), or 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 April 15, 2011, making the ALJ's decision the
“final decision” for the purposes of judicial
review. R. 1-5.
subsequently filed a complaint in this court on June 14,
2011, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). R. 590-91. On July
25, 2012, the Honorable Bruce H. Hendricks, United States
Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation
recommending that the ALJ be reversed and remanded. Lydia
v. Astrue, No. 11-1453, 2012 WL 3304107 (D.S.C. July 25,
2012). On August 13, 2012, the Honorable David C. Norton,
United States District Judge, issued an order adopting the
Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, reversing
and remanding the case to the agency. Lydia v.
Astrue, No. 11-1453, 2012 WL 3308108 (D.S.C. Aug. 13,
2012). Judge Norton, through adopting the Magistrate
Judge's Report and Recommendation, found that the ALJ
failed to explain his reasons for concluding that Dr.
Ruffing's opinion was inconsistent with his examination.
Id. at *1 (adopting 2012 WL 3304107 at *8-9). The
Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ on May 21, 2013.
The ALJ held a second hearing on November 21, 2013, and a
third hearing on July 10, 2014. R. 457-514, 515-65. ALJ again
issued an unfavorable decision on December 5, 2014, which
became the final decision of the Commissioner for the
purposes of judicial review. R. 391-456. Plaintiff thereafter
brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). ECF
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 Shiva V. Hodges, for a Report and Recommendation. On
January 25, 2016, the Magistrate Judge filed a Report and
Recommendation in which she recommended the
Commissioner's decision to deny benefits be reversed. ECF
No. 18. The Commissioner filed objections to the Report and
Recommendation on February 4, 2016. ECF No. 20. Plaintiff
filed a response to the Commissioner's Objections on
February 22, 2016. ECF No. 22.
matter is now 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 and Recommendation to which a specific
objection is made. The court may accept, reject, or modify,
in whole or in part, the recommendation by the Magistrate
Judge or may recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with
instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). After a careful review
of the record in this matter, the Report and Recommendation,
and the applicable legal standards, the court finds that the
Report and Recommendation provides an accurate summary of the
instant case. The court adopts all portions of the Report and
Recommendation, reverses the decision of the Commissioner,
and remands the matter to the agency, as further explained
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court is authorized to review the Commissioner's denial
of benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); however, the
court's role is a limited one. Section 405(g) 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 (4th Cir. 1964). The court must not “try the
case de novo” and it is “immaterial that
the evidence before [the court] will permit a conclusion
inconsistent with [the ALJ].” Id.; Vitek
v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157, 1157 (4th Cir. 1971). However,
this does not require the “the findings of the
administrative agency [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. In
reviewing the decision of the Commissioner, the court must
“closely scrutinize the administrative proceedings to
insure a result consistent with congressional intent and
elemental fairness.” Flack, 413 F.2d at 280.
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).
facilitate a uniform and efficient processing of disability
claims, the Social Security Act has by regulation reduced the
statutory definition of “disability” to a series
of five sequential questions. See e.g., Heckler
v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460 (1983). An examiner must
consider whether the claimant (1) is engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an
impairment that equals an illness contained in the Social
Security Administration's Official Listings of
Impairments found at 20 C.F.R. Part 4, Subpart P, App. 1, (4)
has an impairment that prevents past relevant work; and (5)
has an impairment that prevents her from doing substantial
gainful employment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. If an
individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry
is unnecessary. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1503(a); Hall v.
Harris, 658 F.2d 260 (4th Cir. 1981).
was thirty-seven years old on her alleged disability onset
date and was forty-seven years old at the time of the
ALJ's most recent unfavorable decision regarding her
applications for DIB and SSI. R. 448. She has a high school
diploma, a cosmetology license, and has worked in the past as
a winder, spinner, creeler, cashier, and stock clerk. R. 35,
59, 136. Plaintiff alleges disability beginning May 1, 2005.
R. 94. Plaintiff alleges both physical and mental
disabilities. Plaintiff alleges physical problems with her
hands, back, and knees. R. 397. Further, Plaintiff asserts that
she suffers from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder,
and generalized anxiety disorders. R. 208-09, 233-49, 268,
278-79, 309-11, 315, 318, 340-46, 398, 698-700, 722-25.
Plaintiff's medical history has been discussed at length
in the Report and Recommendation; therefore, the court
incorporates the Report and Recommendation's factual
summary. ECF No. 18 at 2-18. Plaintiff's history of
alleged mental disability may be summarized as follows.
Beginning with her physical injury in late 2004, Plaintiff
alleges she has become more withdrawn, anxious, and depressed
because she cannot work. R. 43-45; 471. Plaintiff further
alleges that past trauma, including her father committing
suicide in front of her and an abusive marriage, have
contributed to her depression and anxiety. R. 43-45, 49.
Plaintiff has been inconsistent in her treatment of her
mental health issues but alleges that she has been unable to
afford treatments as she no longer has insurance coverage. R.
46, 478, 480-83.
Commissioner asserts specific objections to the Report and
Recommendation. The court will review ...