United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Beaufort Division
Anthony C. Callaham, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Timothy M. Cain United States District Judge
Anthony C. Callaham (“Callaham”), 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”). 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. Before this court is
the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation
(“Report”), recommending the court to affirm the
Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 11). In the Report,
the Magistrate Judge sets forth the relevant facts and legal
standards, which are incorporated herein by reference.
Callaham has filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 13), and
the Commissioner has responded to those objections (ECF No.
15). Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for review.
18, 2013, Callaham applied for DIB, alleging disability
beginning on December 11, 2012, due to rheumatoid arthritis,
lumbar disc degeneration, numbness, bulging disc in his lower
back, nerve damage in his left leg, and poor blood
circulation in his hands. Callaham's application was
denied initially and on reconsideration. On August 20, 2015,
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a
hearing and heard testimony from Callahm and a vocational
October 28, 2015, the ALJ denied Callaham's claim for
DIB. In his decision, the ALJ found that Callaham suffered
from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc
disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, atrial
fibrillation, chronic adhesive capsulitis of the right
shoulder, and patellofemoral syndrome. (ECF No. 6-2 at 18).
The ALJ then concluded that despite limitations, Callaham
could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy. (ECF No. 6-2 at 30-31). Callaham sought
review of his case by the Appeals Council. The Appeals
Council denied Callahm'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, Callaham contends the Magistrate Judge erred in
recommending affirming the ALJ's decision based upon the
decision being supported by substantial evidence when he
alleges an incorrect legal standard was applied.
Specifically, Callaham contends that the ALJ applied an
improper legal standard in assessing his complaints of pain
when he required that there be “clinical correlation of
his symptomology to the degree of debility alleged with
objective findings on examination.” (Objections at 3).
Callaham argues that this in direct conflict with a SSA
regulation, 20 CFR § 404.1529. Moreover, he argues that
the ALJ did not follow Social Security Ruling
(“SSR”) 96-7p (now superseded), which governed
the assessment of credibility at the time of the
Report, the Magistrate Judge set forth an extensive summary
of Callaham's medical records. (Report at 3-11). The
Magistrate Judge then addressed whether the ALJ erred by
applying an improper standard when he noted that there was no
“clinical correlation” of the symptomology to
“the degree of debility with objective findings on
examination.” (Report at 12). The Magistrate Judge
stated that Callaham was basically challenging the ALJ's
discounting of his subjective complaints and the use of the
quoted boilerplate language in doing so. Id. The
Magistrate Judge noted that the ALJ set out the proper
two-step process for evaluating subjective complaints and
noted that he had considered all the evidence. (Report at
13). The Magistrate Judge concluded that he could discern no
reversible error in the ALJ's evaluation. Id.
noted by the ALJ and Magistrate Judge, under 20 C.F.R. §
404.1529(b), “the determination of whether a person is
disabled by pain or other symptoms is a two-step
process.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 594
(4th Cir. 1996). The threshold requirement is that there be
“a showing by objective [medical] evidence of the
existence of a medical impairment which could reasonably be
expected to produce the actual pain, in the amount and
degree, alleged by the claimant.” Id.
(internal quotation marks omitted). Once the ALJ concludes
that this threshold requirement has been met, the ALJ must
evaluate “the intensity and persistence of the
claimant's pain, and the extent to which it affects her
ability to work.” Id. at 595 (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.929(c)(1) & 404.1529(c)(1))).
“[T]his evaluation must take into account not only the
claimant's statements about her pain, but also ‘all
the available evidence, ' including the claimant's
medical history, medical signs, and laboratory findings; any
objective medical evidence of pain . . .; and any other
evidence relevant to the severity of the impairment, such as
evidence of the claimant's daily activities, specific
descriptions of the pain, and any medical treatment taken to
alleviate it.” Id. (internal citation
omitted). The ALJ may not disregard or discredit a
claimant's statements about pain “solely because
they are not substantiated by objective medical
evidence.” SSR 96-7p; see also Craig, 76 F.3d
at 595. The Fourth Circuit has held that once a claimant
meets the “threshold obligation of showing by objective
medical evidence a condition reasonably likely to cause the
pain claimed, [a claimant is] entitled to rely exclusively on
subjective evidence to prove the second part of the test,
i.e., that [the] pain is so continuous and/or severe that it
prevents [claimant] from working a full day.” Hines
v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 565 (4th Cir. 2006). However,
[t]his is not to say . . . that objective medical evidence
and other objective evidence are not crucial to evaluating
the intensity and persistence of a claimant's pain and
the extent to which it impairs her ability to work. They most
certainly are. Although a claimant's allegations about
her pain may not be discredited solely because they are not
substantiated by objective evidence of the pain itself or its
severity, they need not be accepted to the extent they are
inconsistent with the available evidence, including objective
evidence of the underlying impairment, and the extent to
which that impairment can reasonably be expected to cause the
pain the claimant alleges she suffers. . . .
Craig, 76 F.3d at 595. Finally, the ALJ's
“determination or decision must contain specific
reasons for the finding on credibility, supported by the
evidence in the case record, and must be sufficiently
specific to make clear to the individual and to any
subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the