United States District Court, D. South Carolina
John C. Eustace, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Howe Hendricks United States District Judge
John C. Eustace (“Plaintiff”) brought this action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) to obtain judicial
review of a final decision of Defendant, Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying his
claim for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”)
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. In accordance
with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rules
73.02(B)(2)(a) and 83.VII.02, D.S.C., this matter was
referred to United States Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn D.
Austin for pretrial handling. On January 4, 2017, the
Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation
(“Report”) in which she determined that Plaintiff
did not show that the Commissioner's decision was
unsupported by substantial evidence or reached through
application of an incorrect legal standard. Accordingly, the
Magistrate Judge recommended affirming the Commissioner's
decision. (ECF No. 22.) Plaintiff filed Objections on January
18, 2017. (ECF No. 23.) For the reasons stated below, the
Court adopts the Report and affirms the Commissioner's
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Report and Recommendation sets forth in detail the relevant
facts and standards of law on this matter, and the Court
incorporates them and summarizes below in relevant part.
Plaintiff, as a minor child, was found to be eligible for SSI
benefits by Order dated September 6, 2002, due to depression
and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. (Tr. 48.)
Plaintiff attained the age of 18 on September 30, 2010, and
his claim was reevaluated as a childhood age 18
redetermination pursuant to sections 211 and 212 of Public
Law 104-193. Plaintiff alleges continuing disability beyond
the age of 18 due to major depressive disorder and attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder. (ECF No. 18 at 2.) On the
redetermination, it was determined that Plaintiff's
condition had improved and he no longer had marked and/or
severe functional limitations. (Tr. 51-54.) Consequently,
disability was found to have ceased on May 3, 2011, and
eligibility for benefits was terminated in July 2011. (Tr.
52.) A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) who issued an unfavorable decision on
December 12, 2013, finding Plaintiff was not disabled under
the Act. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision
of the Commissioner. Plaintiff subsequently filed an action
in this Court on April 23, 2015. (ECF No. 1.)
Magistrate Judge recommends affirming the ALJ's decision.
The 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 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. §
636(b)(1). “However, the Court is not required to
review, under a de novo or any other standard, the
factual or legal conclusions of the Magistrate Judge as to
those portions of the report and recommendation to which no
objections are addressed. While the level of scrutiny
entailed by the Court's review of the Report thus depends
on whether or not objections have been filed, in either case
the Court is free, after review, to accept, reject, or modify
any of the Magistrate Judge's findings or
recommendations.” Wallace v. Housing Auth. of the
City of Columbia, 791 F.Supp. 137, 138 (D.S.C. 1992)
(internal citations omitted).
role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme
established by the Social Security Act is a limited one.
Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court may only review
whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of
the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . .
.”); Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982 (4th
Cir. 1980). “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); see, e.g., Daniel v.
Gardner, 404 F.2d 889 (4th Cir. 1968); Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966); Tyler v.
Weinberger, 409 F.Supp. 776 (E.D. Va. 1976). In order
for a reviewing court to determine whether the Commissioner
based a decision on substantial evidence, “the decision
must include the reasons for the determination . . . .”
Green v. Chater, 64 F.3d 657, 1995 WL 478032, *2
(4th Cir. 1995) (citing Cook v. Heckler, 783 F.2d
1168, 1172 (4th Cir. 1986)). The statutorily mandated
standard precludes a de novo review of the factual
circumstances that substitutes the Court's findings for
those of the Commissioner. See, e.g., Vitek v.
Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971); Hicks v.
Gardner, 393 F.2d 299 (4th Cir. 1968). Accordingly,
“the court [must] uphold the [Commissioner's]
decision even should the court disagree with such decision as
long as it is supported by ‘substantial
evidence.'” Blalock v. Richardson, 483
F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). As noted by Judge Sobeloff in
Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278 (4th Cir. 1969),
“[f]rom this 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.” Id. at 279.
“[T]he 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 his conclusion is rational.”
Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.
filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on January
18, 2017. (ECF No. 23.) In his three and a half pages of
objections, Plaintiff generally objects that the Magistrate
Judge applied the wrong standard of review and improperly
“rubber stamp[ed]” the ALJ's decision. (ECF
No. 23 at 1-3.) He also objects that the Magistrate Judge
referred to the ALJ as the wrong gender and misstated the
gender of Plaintiff's romantic partner. (Id. at
to Plaintiff's assertions, the Magistrate Judge applied
the correct standard of review-substantial evidence. (ECF No.
22 at 19-20.) As the Magistrate Judge correctly stated, under
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a court's scope of review is
limited to (1) whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the
ultimate conclusions reached by the Commissioner are legally
correct under controlling law. See Hays v. Sullivan,
907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); Richardson v.
Califano, 574 F.2d 802, 803 (4th Cir. 1978);
Myers, 611 F.2d at 982-83. If the record contains
substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's
decision, it is the Court's duty to affirm the decision.
the Magistrate Judge painstakingly recounted the evidence
considered by the ALJ, both the medical records and other
evidence of record. She found that the ALJ “considered
and discussed his evaluation of the medical evidence of
record and clearly explained his consideration of the
same.” (ECF No. 22 at 25.) Noting that Plaintiff failed
to point to any specific evidence of record that was excluded
from consideration, the Magistrate Judge found that there was
no basis to find the ALJ's decision was not supported by
substantial evidence. (Id. at 25-26.) The Court
agrees with the Magistrate Judge that the ALJ's decision
is supported by substantial evidence. Indeed, the ALJ's
decision is remarkably thorough and demonstrates a careful
consideration and analysis of the evidence of record.
Plaintiff's arguments to the contrary are unavailing.
example, Plaintiff claims that the ALJ “took license
with the actual evidence and contorted it to suit
preconceived conclusions.” (ECF No. 23 at 2-3.) Here,
he cites the ALJ's finding that “the claimant
participated in the school band without evidence of
difficulty dealing with ...