United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division
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 claims
for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Disabled
Widower's Benefits (DWB). 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
Defendant's final decision denying Plaintiff's claims
for DIB and DWB 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 December 13, 2016, and
Plaintiff filed his objections on December 27, 2016. The
Court has carefully reviewed Plaintiff's objections, but
holds them to be without merit. Therefore, it will enter
filed his application for DIB and DWB on March 4, 2012,
asserting his disability commenced on February 28, 2012.
Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which the ALJ conducted on
December 4, 2013. Then, on January 10, 2014, the ALJ issued a
decision finding 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 claims.
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 two specific objections to the Magistrate Judge's
Report. The Court will address each one in turn.
Plaintiff asserts the Magistrate Judge erred by accepting the
ALJ's allegedly conclusory statement regarding the
combined effect of Plaintiff's multiple impairments. ECF
No. 24 at 1. Specifically, Plaintiff avers the Magistrate
Judge failed to point out exactly where the ALJ conducted
this analysis within his decision, citing Walker v.
Bowen, 889 F.2d 47 (4th Cir. 1989). Plaintiff insists
the lack of a detailed discussion of how Plaintiff's
combined impairments affect him is particularly significant
given his diagnoses of hypochondriasis and somatization
disorder. The Court is unpersuaded.
Walker was not intended to be used as a trap for the
Commissioner; rather, the adequacy requirement of
Walker is met if it is clear from the decision as a
whole the ALJ considered the combined effect of a
claimant's impairments. Thus, there have been instances
in which this Court has affirmed an appeal in which the ALJ
could have done a better job explaining his decision because,
when the opinion was read as a whole, the Court was able to
take the ALJ at her or his word that she or he had properly
analyzed the issue. See, e.g., Sims v.
Colvin, Civil Action No. 0:14-1663-MGL-PJG, 2015 WL
5525096, at *6 (D.S.C. Sept. 17, 2015) (“[T]he Court is
satisfied that, when the ALJ's opinion is read as a
whole, it is clear that he considered the combined effect of
Plaintiff s combined impairments.”). Further, the
Court's “general practice, which [it] see[s] no
reason to depart from here, is to take a lower tribunal at
its word when it declares that it has considered a
matter.” Hackett v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168,
1173 (10th Cir. 2005). Additionally, to the extent the ALJ
could have done a better job in explaining his decision,
“if the [ALJ's] decision is overwhelmingly
supported by the record though the agency's original
opinion failed to marshal that support, then remanding is a
waste of time.” Bishop v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 583 F. App'x 65, 67 (4th Cir. 2014) (internal
quotation marks omitted). This is such a case. The ALJ's
decision, when read as a whole, convinces this Court he
properly considered the evidence of the effect of
Plaintiff's combined impairments, “and the
ALJ's decision is [so] overwhelmingly supported by the
record . . . [that] remanding is a waste of time.”
Id. Hence, because this Court is of the firm opinion
the ALJ properly considered and explained his consideration
of Plaintiff's impairments in combination, the Court will
overrule Plaintiff's first objection.
Plaintiff urges the Magistrate Judge erred in recommending
the ALJ made an appropriate determination of Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (RFC). ECF No. 24 at 3.
Plaintiff claims the ALJ neglected to account for
Plaintiff's mental health limitations in the RFC. The
ALJ is not required to discuss all the evidence submitted,
and an ALJ's failure to cite specific evidence does not
indicate that it was not considered.” Craig v.
Apfel, 212 F.3d 433, 436 (8th Cir. 2000). But, the
“ALJ may not select and discuss only that evidence that
favors his ultimate conclusion, but must articulate, at some
minimum level, his analysis of the evidence to allow the . .
. [C]ourt to trace the path of his reasoning.” Diaz
v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 307 (4th Cir. 1995). That said,
although the ALJ “must build an accurate and logical
bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusion, ”
Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir.
2001), the Court “will ...