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Giles v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

August 17, 2017

Darryl Giles, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on United States Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker's Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) (ECF No. 14). In her R & R, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court affirm the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's decision denying Darryl Giles' claim for disability benefits. Giles objects to the R & R. (ECF No. 16.) For the following reasons, the Court overrules Giles' objections, adopts the R & R, and affirms the Acting Commissioner's decision.


         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The R & R has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility for making a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). This Court must conduct a de novo review of any portion of the R & R to which a timely, specific objection is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify the Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendations in whole or in part. Id. Additionally, the Court may receive more evidence or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. Id. A party's failure to object is taken as the party's agreement with the Magistrate Judge's conclusions. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140 (1985). Absent a timely, specific objection-or as to those portions of the R & R to which no specific objection is made-this Court “must ‘only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.'” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note).


         The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) determined Giles' severe impairments included carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis of the knees, hypertension, Dupuytren's syndrome, and obesity. Giles contended that, between the pain those impairments caused him and the drowsiness and difficulty concentrating he experienced from taking medication for that pain, he could not work. The ALJ found the impairments prevented Giles from performing his past job of meat cutter. However, the ALJ found Giles' claims regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms were “not entirely credible” because they were “inconsistent with the medical evidence and his activities of daily living.” (R., ECF No. 9-2, at 22.) The ALJ concluded there were several jobs existing in significant numbers that Giles could perform, even with the light-work restriction the ALJ assigned. For that reason, the ALJ denied Giles' claim.

         Giles asked the Commission's Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. In that appeal, he submitted a letter from Dr. Robert Fulmer, Giles' treating physician, that post-dated the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council made the letter part of the record and took it into consideration. However, it found the letter did not warrant changing the ALJ's decision. The Council therefore declined to review the ALJ's decision.

         In this action, Giles contends that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's findings about his credibility and that this case should be remanded so the ALJ can consider Dr. Fulmer's letter. The Magistrate Judge disagreed with both contentions. Giles now objects to portions of the Magistrate Judge's analysis of both issues.

         I. Giles' Credibility

         As mentioned, the ALJ discounted Giles' complaints of pain, drowsiness, and difficulty concentrating because, in the ALJ's view, the record did not show those symptoms to be as intense, persistent, or limiting as Giles claimed them to be. Because the ALJ based that decision on the record's medical evidence and evidence of Giles' daily activities, the Magistrate Judge focused her substantial-evidence review on those two types of evidence. She determined substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ's decision.

         Many of Giles' arguments on this issue consist of pointing to pieces of evidence he contends show that his claims about his conditions are credible. However, that there may be evidence supporting Giles' position does not necessarily mean there is not also substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's contrary determination. The Magistrate Judge's thorough examination of the record demonstrates that truth. The Court therefore rejects those arguments without further discussion. The Court now turns to Giles' remaining arguments on this issue.

         First, in reviewing the medical evidence for consistency with Giles' complaints, the Magistrate Judge noted that Dr. Fulmer apparently contradicted himself by completing a physical capacity evaluation form in 2012 and then stating in 2014 that his office was not qualified to do such a thing. Giles argues the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that someone else's contradiction makes Giles' complaints not credible. The Magistrate Judge never did such a thing; Giles' argument misapprehends the context in which the Magistrate Judge noted the contradiction. One of Giles' arguments in this action is that the ALJ erroneously treated Dr. Fulmer's opinions as inconsistent with his records. The Magistrate Judge cited Dr. Fulmer's contradiction as one of several pieces of evidence disproving Giles' argument and supporting the ALJ's treatment of Dr. Fulmer's opinions.

         Second, Giles accuses the Magistrate Judge of improperly defending the ALJ's credibility decision by creating post-hoc rationales for it from evidence in the record. The Court disagrees. The Magistrate Judge was performing her duty of ascertaining whether substantial evidence supported the ALJ's finding. Although some of the evidence she cited in her R & R was not explicitly mentioned in the ALJ's written opinion, it was not improper for the Magistrate Judge to rely on that evidence. See Heeman v. Colvin, No. 2:13-cv-3607-TMC, 2015 WL 5474679, at *3 (D.S.C. Sept. 16, 2015) (“[W]here the magistrate judge . . . points to additional evidence in the record supporting the ALJ's opinion, the magistrate judge is not applying a post hoc rationale. Rather, the magistrate judge is simply noting that the substantial evidence relied upon by the ALJ is not inconsistent with other evidence in the record.” (citations omitted)); see also, e.g., White v. Colvin, No. 6:13-cv-1935-BHH, 2015 WL 892932, at *4 (D.S.C. Mar. 3, 2015) (rejecting same argument as Giles makes here).

         Finally, in concluding substantial evidence supported the ALJ's finding that Giles' routine activities undermined Giles' claims of the extent of his incapacity, the Magistrate Judge cited Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650 (4th Cir. 2005). Giles contends his case is factually unlike Johnson. The Court disagrees. In Johnson, the Fourth Circuit held an ALJ logically reasoned that the claimant's complaints of severe pain, trouble concentrating, and being “doped up” from medications were inconsistent with her activities, which included attending church, reading, watching television, housekeeping, ...

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