United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division
Christopher A. Trinemeyer, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Timothy M. Cain, United States District Judge
Christopher A. Trinemeyer (“Trinemeyer”), brought
this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying his claim for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under the
Social Security Act (“SSA”). This matter is
before the court for review of the Report and Recommendation
(“Report”) of the United States Magistrate Judge,
made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local
Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C., concerning the disposition
of social security cases in this district. (ECF No.
The Report recommends that the Commissioner's decision be
filed an application for DIB in May 2011, alleging that he
became unable to work on September 1, 2010, due to
post-traumatic stress disorder, depressions, and peroneal
tendon reconstruction. He later amended his alleged
disability onset date to August 2, 2013. His application was
denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social
Security Administration. He requested a review by an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and an ALJ
conducted a hearing on May 15, 2015.
9, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision, finding that Trinemeyer
was not disabled as defined in the SSA. The ALJ found that
Trinemeyer suffered from a combination of severe impairments
of post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”),
degenerative joint disease, history of traumatic head injury,
and migraines The ALJ went on to find that Trinemeyer's
impairments did not meet or medically equal the criteria for
any of the listed impairments through the date last insured
of August 2, 2013. Accordingly, the ALJ proceeded to assess
Trinemeyer's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), finding that Trinemeyer could perform
sedentary work with some limitations. The ALJ concluded that
Trinemeyer could not perform his past relevant work, but that
he could perform other jobs in existence in the national
economy in significant numbers and, therefore, denied his
sought review by the Appeals Council. On August 18, 2015, the
Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision.
Trinemeyer then filed this action for judicial review on
October 22, 2015. The magistrate judge filed his Report on
November 8, 2016. (ECF No. 27). On December 1, 2016,
Trinemeyer filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 30), and
on December 15, 2016, the Commissioner filed a reply to those
objections (ECF No. 31). This matter is now ripe for review.
Standard of Review
federal judiciary has a limited role in the administrative
scheme established by the SSA. Section 405(g) of the Act
provides, “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 . . . as
more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.”
Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir.
1964). This standard precludes a de novo review of the
factual circumstances that substitutes the court's
findings for those of the Commissioner. Vitek v.
Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971). Thus, in its
review, the court may not “undertake to re-weigh
conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or
substitute [its] own judgment for that of the
[Commissioner].” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585,
589 (4th Cir. 1996).
“[f]rom this it does not follow . . . 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
agency.” Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278, 279
(4th Cir. 1969). Rather, “the courts must not abdicate
their responsibility to give careful scrutiny to the whole
record to assure that there is a sound foundation for the
[Commissioner's] findings, and that this conclusion is
rational.” Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.
objections, Trinemeyer contends that the magistrate judge
erred by finding that ALJ correctly: 1) weighed the opinions
of the Veterans' Administration (“VA”) and
Dr. Norman Farley, Ph.D.; 2) determined Trinemeyer's RFC;
and 3) assessed his credibility.
VA and Dr. Farley's Opinions
as to the VA disability opinion, Trinemeyer contends that the
ALJ failed to properly consider the VA opinion evidence.
Trinemeyer has a total 90% service connected disability
rating with a 70% rating due to PTSD and a 20% due to limited
motion of his right ankle. (Tr. 383). In the record, there is a
Compensation and Pension Review examination from February
2015, but the actual disability determination and decision
from the VA is not in evidence.
Bird, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that
an ALJ is to give a VA disability rating substantial weight
unless the record clearly demonstrates that the rating
deserves less than substantial weight. Moreover, pursuant to
Bird, the ALJ is required to explain his treatment
of the VA ratings in the written decision. Bird v.
Comm'r of Social Sec. Admin., 699 F.3d 337
(4thCir. 2012). In his decision, after discussing
the holding in Bird, the ALJ stated that the
evidence as to Trinemeyer's VA combined 90% disability