United States District Court, D. South Carolina
Richard Mark Gergel United States District Judge.
brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g)
and 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial review of the final decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for
Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI")- In accordance
with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 DSC,
this matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge.
The Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation
("R & R") on September 15, 2016, recommending
that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed. (Dkt. No.
26). Plaintiff timely filed objections to the R & R and
the Defendant filed a reply. (Dkt. Nos. 28, 29). For reasons
set forth below, the Court reverses the decision of the
Commissioner and remands to the matter to the agency for
further action consistent with this order.
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976). The
Court is charged with making a de novo determination
of those portions of the Report and Recommendation to which
specific objection is made. The Court may accept, reject, or
modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the
Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme
established by the Social Security Act is a limited one. The
Act provides that the "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 preponderance."
Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir.
1964). This standard precludes de novo review of the
factual circumstances substituting the Court's findings
of fact for those of the Commissioner. Vitekv.
Finch, 438 F.2d 1157, 1157 (4th Cir. 1971).
the federal court's review role is a limited one,
"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). Further, the Commissioner's findings of fact
are not binding if they were based upon the application of an
improper legal standard. Coffinan v. Bowen, 829 F.2d
514, 519 (4th Cir. 1987).
the regulations of the Social Security Administration, the
Commissioner is obligated to consider all medical evidence
and the opinions of medical sources, including treating
physicians. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(b). Known popularly as
the "Treating Physician Rule, " the regulation
requires the Commissioner to "evaluate every medical
opinion we receive." Id. § 404.1527(c).
Special consideration is to be given to the opinions of
treating physicians of the claimant, based on the view that
"these sources are likely to be the medical
professionals most able to provide a detailed, longitudinal
picture of [the claimant's] medical impairment(s) and may
bring a unique perspective to the medical evidence that
cannot be obtained from objective medical findings alone or
from reports of individual examinations, such as consultative
examinations or brief hospitalizations." Id.
some circumstances, the opinions of the treating physicians
are to be accorded controlling weight. Even where the
opinions of the treating physicians of the claimant are not
accorded controlling weight, the Commissioner is obligated to
weigh all medical opinions (treating physicians,
consulting examiners, and non-examining chart reviewers) in
light of a broad range of factors, including the examining
relationship, the treatment relationship, length of
treatment, nature and extent of the treatment relationship!,
support for the opinions in the medical record, consistency,
and whether the treating physician was a specialist.
Id. §§ 404.1527(c)(1)-(5). The
Commissioner is obligated to weigh the findings and opinions
of treating physicians and to give "good reasons"
in the written decision for the weight given to a treating
source's opinions. SSR 96-2P, 1996 WL 374188, at *5
(S.S.A. July 2, 1996). Further, "if the RFC
assessment conflicts with an opinion of any medical source,
the adjudicator must explain why the opinion was not
adopted." SSR 96-8P, 1996 WL 374184, at *7 (S.S.A. July
rules and regulations of the Social Security Administration
place considerable importance on the claimant's capacity
for physical exertion in making a disability determination.
Exertion levels include a capacity for "very heavy work,
" "heavy work, " "medium work, "
"light work, " and "sedentary work." 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567. It is well settled that a residual
functional capacity "for less than a full range of
sedentary work reflects serious limitations" requires
"an individualized determination" that considers
the impact of the limitations or restrictions on the total
number of jobs the particular claimant can perform. 20
C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2 § 200.00(g)(3); SSR
96-9P, 1996 WL 374185 at *1 (S.S.A. July 2, 1996). Where the
limitation involves the capacity to lift or carry weights,
"consultation with a vocational resource may be
appropriate." SSR 96-9P, 1996 WL 374185, at *6.
Sedentary work requires the capacity to lift ten pounds, and
the inability to lift that threshold amount may erode the
occupational base for sedentary work. Id.
claimant in this matter, who was 43 at the time of the
administrative decision and is now 46 years of age, was found
by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to have various severe
impairments, including arthritis, migraines, and obesity. Tr.
20. The ALJ found that despite these severe limitations,
Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform the full range of
sedentary work. Tr. 23. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ
gave limited weight to the opinions of the claimant's
board-certified treating neurologist and pain medicine
specialist, Dr. Marshall White, who opined that the
claimant's "chronic back pain, right leg pain, and
migraine headaches" would require her to take unexpected
and unscheduled work breaks to complete a normal eight hour
workday. Tr. 28, 606. Dr. White also opined that Plaintiffs
medical conditions would result in four or more work absences
per month. Id., Another treating physician, Dr.
Judith Rubano, a board-certified internist affiliated with
the Medical University of South Carolina, reached similar
conclusions. Tr. 588. The ALJ gave "little weight"
to Dr. Rubano's opinions.
gave "some weight" to the opinions of two
non-examining and non-treating physicians, Dr. Mary Lang and
Dr. Hugh Wilson, who found that Plaintiff had the capacity to
lift ten pounds regularly and twenty pounds occasionally. Tr.
27, 65, 108. These chart reviewing experts provided no basis
in the record for their findings regarding Plaintiffs
capacity to lift.
underwent a consultative evaluation by Dr. Jason Madey, a
board-certified neurologist. He noted that Plaintiffs pain
symptoms were aggravated when she lifted more than five
pounds and concluded that she "should be able to carry
objects [less than] 10 lbs." Tr. 494, 496. This opinion
regarding Plaintiffs capacity to lift markedly varied from
the opinions offered by the chart reviewers. Dr. Madey also
opined mat Plaintiff "should be able to sit for a full
work day" but would have "difficulty with long
periods of walking and/or standing." Tr. 496.
stated that he gave "great weight" to Dr.
Madey's opinions and concluded that Plaintiff retained
the RFC "to perform the full range of sedentary
work." Tr. 23. On appeal, Plaintiff objects to the
finding that she is capable of performing a full range of
sedentary work because the only opinion credited by the ALJ
regarding Plaintiffs lifting capacity, Dr. Medey, did not
find that Plaintiff had the capacity to lift ten pounds. The
Commissioner argues on appeal that while the ALJ did not note
the discrepancy between the minimal findings for sedentary
work and Dr. Madey's statement, Plaintiff cannot
demonstrate that the ALJ's opinion would have changed the
outcome. In recommending the ...