United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division
TIMOTHY M. CAIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
plaintiff, James Allen (“Allen”), brought this
action pursuant to the Social Security Act
(“SSA”), 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”)
and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C., this
matter was referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial
handling. Now before this court is the Magistrate Judge's
Report and Recommendation (“Report”),
recommending the court to affirm the Commissioner's
decision. (ECF No. 14). In the Report, the Magistrate Judge
sets forth the relevant facts and legal standards, which are
incorporated herein by reference. Allen has filed objections
to the Report (ECF No. 17), and the Commissioner has
responded to those objections (ECF No. 18). Accordingly, this
matter is now ripe for review.
applied for DIB on April 27, 2012, and SSI on April 30, 2012,
alleging disability beginning on October 30, 2010.
Allen's application was denied initially and on
reconsideration. On April 14, 2014, an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) heard testimony from Allen and a
vocational expert (“VE”). On September 26, 2014,
the ALJ issued a decision denying Allen's claim.
decision, the ALJ found that Allen suffered from the
following severe impairments: cervical and lumbar stenosis,
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obesity. (ECF No.
9-2 at 19). The ALJ found that, despite Allen's
limitations, jobs existed in significant numbers in the
national economy that he could perform. (ECF No. 9-2 at 27).
Allen sought review of his case by the Appeals Council. The
Appeals Council denied Allen's request for review, making
the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. This action followed.
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, Allen asserts that the Magistrate Judge erred by
finding that the ALJ properly evaluated and weighed the
opinions of his treating physicians, Drs. Jacobus and Loring,
and a licensed social worker, Mr. Perkins, who had also
treated Allen. (Objections at 1). Specifically, Allen
contends that each of these medical providers expressed
work-preclusive limitations, and the ALJ failed to give good
reasons for the weight he afforded their opinions.
evaluating medical opinions, the ALJ should consider (1)
whether the physician has examined the claimant; (2) the
treatment relationship between the physician and the
claimant; (3) the supportability of the physician's
opinion; (4) the consistency of the opinion with the record;
and (5) whether the physician is a specialist. See
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527. Social Security Ruling 96-2p
requires that an ALJ give specific reasons for the weight
given to a treating physician's opinion. The ALJ must
give controlling weight to a treating physician's opinion
regarding the nature and severity of a claimant's
impairments when it is “well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and
when the opinion is consistent with the other substantial
evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(2)
and 416.927(c)(2); see also Mastro v. Apfel, 270
F.3d 171, 178 (4th Cir. 2001). Conversely, an ALJ may
discount a treating physician's opinion if it is
unsupported or inconsistent with other evidence. Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 590 (4th Cir. 1996).
ALJ's determination as to the weight to be assigned to a
medical opinion generally will not be disturbed absent some
indication that the ALJ has dredged up “specious
inconsistencies, ” Scivally v. Sullivan, 966
F.2d 1070, 1077 (7th Cir. 1992), or has failed to give a
sufficient reason for the weight afforded a particular
opinion, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d) (1998). Of
course, a medical expert's opinion as to whether one is
disabled is not dispositive; opinions as to disability are
reserved for the ALJ and for the ALJ alone. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(e)(1) (1998). Generally, the more the
medical source presents relevant evidence to support his
opinion, and the better that he explains it, the more weight
his opinion is given. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(d)(3) (1998). Additionally, the more consistent the
opinion is with the record as a whole, the more weight the
ALJ will give to it. See 20 C.F.R. §
regulations distinguish acceptable medical sources from
“other sources, ” which include social workers.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513(d). Evidence from
sources other than acceptable medical sources may be used to
show the severity of a claimant's impairments and how it
affects the claimant's ability to work. Id.
“The evaluation of an opinion from a medical source who
is not an ‘acceptable medical source' depends on
the particular facts in each case.” SSR 06-03p.
“Each case must be adjudicated on its own merits based
on a consideration of the probative value of the opinions and
a weighing of all the evidence in that particular
case.” Id. When evaluating such a source,
“the adjudicator generally should explain the weight
given to [such] opinion[s] . . . or otherwise ensure that the
discussion of the evidence in the determination or decision
allows a claimant or subsequent reviewer to follow the
adjudicator's reasoning, when such opinions may have an
effect on the outcome of the case.” Id.
the function of this court is not to review Allens's
claims de novo or to reweigh the evidence of record. See
Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986)
(citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); and Blalock v.
Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972)). Rather,
this court is to determine whether, upon review of the whole
record, the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial
evidence and a proper ...