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Dobbing v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

October 26, 2016

WILLIAM C. DOBBING, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S FINAL DECISION DENYING BENEFITS

          MARY GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a Social Security appeal in which Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of Defendant denying his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). 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 to the Court that Defendant's final decision denying Plaintiff's claim for DIB be affirmed. The Report was made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina.

         The 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. § 636(b)(1).

         The Magistrate Judge filed the Report on September 13, 2016, Plaintiff filed his objections on September 30, 2016, and Defendant filed her reply on October 17, 2016. The Court has carefully reviewed Plaintiff's objections, but holds them to be without merit. Therefore, it will enter judgment accordingly.

         Plaintiff filed his application for DIB in August 2012, asserting his disability commenced on April 1, 2011. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which the ALJ conducted on February 14, 2014. Then, on March 11, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision holding Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. Subsequently, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. Accordingly, the ALJ's decision became Defendant's final decision for purposes of judicial review. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed suit in this Court, seeking judicial review of Defendant's final decision denying his claim.

         The Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I)-(v), 416.920(a)(4)(I)-(v).

         Under 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). Thus, 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 the Magistrate Judge made in the Report.

         It is Plaintiff's duty to both produce evidence and prove he 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, the Court must view the entire record as a whole. See Steurer v. Bowen, 815 F.2d, 1249, 1250 (8th Cir. 1987).

         “Additionally, 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). 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).

         Plaintiff raises three objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report. In Plaintiff's first objection, he complains the ALJ erred in concluding that the opinion of Dr. Joseph T. Hickey, Plaintiff's treating physician, was unentitled to controlling weight. The Court is unpersuaded.

         When 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).

         An ALJ's determination as to the weight to be assigned to a medical opinion generally will not be disturbed absent some indication 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 always required to give a treating physician's testimony “controlling weight.” Hunter, 993 F.2d at 35.

         According to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d)(2) and 416.927(d)(2), a treating source's opinion on issues of the nature and severity of the impairments will be given controlling weight when well supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and when the opinion is consistent with the other substantial evidence in the record. Conversely, however, it follows “if a physician's opinion is not supported by clinical evidence or if it is inconsistent with other substantial evidence, it should be accorded significantly less weight.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 590 (4th Cir. 1996).

         Of course, a medical expert's opinion as to whether one is disabled is not dispositive; opinions as to disability are reserved for the ALJ and for the ALJ alone. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(e)(1) (1998). Generally, the more the medical source presents relevant evidence to support his opinion, and the better he explains it, the more weight his opinion is given. See 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1527(d)(3) (1998). Additionally, the more consistent the ...


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