United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division
WILLIAM C. DOBBING, JR., Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
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 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.
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 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
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.
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),
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.
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).
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).
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.
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 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.
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).
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. §
404.1527(d)(3) (1998). Additionally, the more consistent the