United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division
ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND
REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS
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
this matter be reversed and remanded for further
administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). 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 October 4, 2016.
Plaintiff filed his objections on October 20, 2016, and
Defendant filed a Reply on October 21, 2016, stating that she
would decline filing objections. The Court has carefully
reviewed Plaintiff's objections and holds them meritless.
Therefore, it will enter judgment accordingly.
filed an application for DIB on August 28, 2009, asserting
his disability commenced on February 16, 2009.
Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which the ALJ conducted on
June 16, 2011. On November 10, 2011, the ALJ issued a
decision holding Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act.
The Appeals Council subsequently 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
an action in this Court on May 1, 2012, seeking judicial
review of Defendant's decision denying his claim. The
Court issued an order on June 14, 2013, reversing the
ALJ's decision and remanding for further proceedings. On
August 30, 2013, the Appeals Council issued an order
remanding Plaintiff's case to an ALJ.
Plaintiff's case was pending before the ALJ, Plaintiff
filed a second application for DIB on April 30, 2013. On
September 23, 2013, the Social Security Administration (SSA)
issued a decision finding Plaintiff became disabled on
February 1, 2013. The ALJ conducted hearings in
Plaintiff's case on May 15, 2014, and September 9, 2014,
to determine whether Plaintiff was disabled from February 16,
2009, to January 31, 2013. On February 13, 2015, the ALJ
issued a decision holding Plaintiff was not disabled under
the Act during the relevant period. The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's
February 13, 2015, decision. The ALJ's decision therefore
became final for purposes of judicial review. Plaintiff
subsequently filed this action on December 9, 2015, seeking
judicial review of the Defendant's final decision denying
his claim for benefits for the period from February 16, 2009,
to January 31, 2013.
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. §§
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
Court need not-and will not-address any of Plaintiff's
arguments that fail to point the Court to alleged specific
errors in the Report.
Plaintiff's duty both to produce evidence and to 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, 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). 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 only one specific objection to the Magistrate
Judge's Report. Plaintiff asserts the Magistrate Judge
erred in recommending his claim be remanded for further
administrative proceedings rather than directing Defendant to
award benefits. Objections 1. Specifically, Plaintiff argues
the claim should be awarded rather than remanded because the
record is complete, and the evidence Plaintiff was disabled
during the relevant period is “overwhelming.”
Id. at 2. The Court is unpersuaded.
ALJ's decision on a Social Security disability claim is
unsupported by substantial evidence, the district court has
the power to reverse the Commissioner's decision
“with or without remanding the cause for a
rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The decision
whether to remand a case for rehearing upon reversal rests
within the discretion of the district court. Radford v.
Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2013). The reversal
of a case without remand for a rehearing is appropriate
“where the record does not contain substantial evidence
to support a decision denying coverage under the correct
legal standard and when reopening the record for more
evidence would serve no purpose.” Breeden v.
Weinburger, 493 F.2d 1002, 1012 (4th Cir. 1974)
(citations omitted). It is, however, an abuse of discretion
to reverse a case without remand for further proceedings when
doing so would require the district court to weigh
conflicting evidence, make determinations of credibility, or
substitute its judgment for the ALJ's. Radford,
734 F.3d at 296 (holding that a district court abused its
discretion in remanding for an award of benefits rather than
remanding for further proceedings when the record contained
conflicting evidence regarding whether the plaintiff was
alleges that February 16, 2009, is the onset date of his
disability, and he is seeking benefits as of that date.
Plaintiff correctly notes in his objections to the Report
that two of Plaintiff's treating physicians, Dr. Eric
Loudermilk and Dr. Geera Desai, and a clinical psychologist,
Dr. David Tollison, expressed opinions Plaintiff was disabled
as of the alleged onset date. As explained by the Magistrate
Judge, however, there is conflicting evidence regarding the
alleged onset date of Plaintiff's disability. For
example, Dr. Loudermilk noted in progress reports dated
January, February, and March 2010 that Plaintiff had
completed a work hardening program and should work toward
returning to a status of gainful employment. Tr. at 274-76.
Treating physician Dr. Hibbitts released Plaintiff for work
on May 4, 2009, id. at 210, and Plaintiff testified
during his September 9, 2014, hearing that he performed work
from the summer of ...