United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division
ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND
AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DENIAL OF PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS
GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
a Social Security appeal in which Plaintiff seeks judicial
review of the final decision of Defendant denying his claims
for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental
Security Income (SSI). The parties are represented by
excellent counsel. The matter is before the Court for review
of the Report and Recommendation (Report) of the United
States Magistrate Judge suggesting to the Court
Defendant's decision denying Plaintiff's claims for
DIB and SSI be affirmed. The Report was made in accordance
with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the
District of South Carolina.
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (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. §
Magistrate Judge filed the Report on October 25, 2017. ECF
No. 20. Plaintiff filed objections on November 8, 2017, ECF
No. 21, and Defendant replied on November 13, 2017, ECF No.
22. The Court has carefully reviewed Plaintiff's
objections but holds them to be meritless. Therefore, it will
enter judgment accordingly.
filed his applications for DIB and SSI on July 12, 2012,
asserting his disability commenced on February 1, 2012.
Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. The administrative law judge (ALJ) conducted
a hearing on Plaintiff's applications on November 13,
2014. On January 14, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision holding
Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act (the
Act). The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's
request for review of the ALJ's decision, and Plaintiff
appealed to this Court.
Social Security Administration has established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining whether a
person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a),
416.920(a). The five steps are: (1) whether the claimant is
currently engaging in substantial gainful activity; (2)
whether the claimant has a medically determinable severe
impairment(s); (3) whether such impairment(s) meets or equals
an impairment set forth in the Listings; (4) whether the
impairment(s) prevents the claimant from returning to his
past relevant work; and, if so, (5) whether the claimant is
able to perform other work as it exists in the national
economy. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(a)(4)(I)-(v),
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), a district court is required to
conduct a de novo review of those portions of the Magistrate
Judge's Report to which a specific objection has been
made. The Court need not conduct a de novo review, however,
Awhen a party makes general and conclusory objections that do
not direct the court to a specific error in the [Magistrate
Judge's] proposed findings and recommendations.
Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982);
see Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). Thus, the Court will
address each specific objection to the Report in turn. As
provided above, however, the Court need not-and will
not-address any of Plaintiff's arguments that fail to
point the Court to alleged specific errors the Magistrate
Judge made in the Report.
Plaintiff's duty both to produce evidence and to prove he
is disabled under the Act. See Pass v. Chater, 65
F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). And, it is the duty of the
ALJ, not this Court, to make findings of fact and to resolve
conflicts in the evidence. Hays v. Sullivan, 907
F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Under the substantial
evidence standard, however, the Court must view the entire
record as a whole. See Steurer v. Bowen, 815 F.2d,
1249, 1250 (8th Cir. 1987).
the substantial evidence standard presupposes a zone of
choice within which the decisionmakers can go either way,
without interference by the courts. An administrative
decision is not subject to reversal merely because
substantial evidence would have supported an opposite
decision.” Clarke v. Bowen, 843 F.2d 271,
272-73 (8th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (alteration omitted). Likewise, when
considering a Social Security disability claim, it is not the
province of this Court to “reweigh conflicting evidence
. . . or substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ.
Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir.
2005) (per curiam) (citation omitted) (alteration omitted).
The Court Amust sustain the ALJ's decision, even if [it]
disagree[s] with it, provided the determination is supported
by substantial evidence. Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d
635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996).
sets forth three objections to the Magistrate Judge's
Report. First, Plaintiff argues the Magistrate Judge erred in
recommending the ALJ's residual functional capacity (RFC)
finding is supported by substantial evidence. Specifically,
Plaintiff claims the Magistrate Judge incorrectly determined
the ALJ committed no error in excluding the results from
Plaintiff's April 2011 MRI and evidence of
Plaintiff's reduced range of motion. The Court is
Plaintiff acknowledges, the Magistrate Judge recognized the
ALJ failed to address Plaintiff's April 2011 MRI results,
but the Magistrate Judge explained the MRI was conducted
outside the relevant period, which started on February 1,
2012, the date Plaintiff alleges his disability commenced.
See ECF No. 20 at 13. The Magistrate Judge further
noted the ALJ stated x-rays taken during the relevant period
showed spondylopathy, the same condition indicated in the MRI
results. See id.
avers “there is no indication of improvement between
April 2011 and February of 2012 that would negate the MRI
findings[, ]” ECF No. 21 at 1, and Plaintiff insists
the ALJ was required to consider the MRI results in addition
to the x-rays because the MRI results provide a “more
exact, more descriptive diagnosis of marked spondylopathy[,
]” id. at 3. Plaintiff fails, however, to
explain why the ALJ was obligated specifically to address MRI
results from approximately ten months prior to
Plaintiff's alleged onset date when x-rays from the
relevant time period revealed Plaintiff suffered from the
same general condition the MRI results indicated. The ALJ
acknowledged Plaintiff's spondylopathy, see ECF
No. 10-2 at 29, and Plaintiff does not suggest otherwise.
evidence of Plaintiff's range of motion, Plaintiff
alleges the Magistrate Judge failed to explain why the
ALJ's omission of evidence regarding Plaintiff's
range of motion for types of movements other than cervical
spine forward flexion was acceptable. The only specific
evidence Plaintiff cites as omitted by the ALJ is Dr. Thomas
Motycka's (Dr. Motycka) observation Plaintiff held his
head stiffly. The Magistrate Judge, however, considered the
ALJ's omission of this observation by Dr. Motycka. The
Magistrate Judge explained the ALJ's failure to address
this statement was immaterial because it was contradictory to
other findings of Dr. Motycka as well as Dr. Philip Rhine
(Dr. Rhine). See ECF No. 20 at 13-14. Because the
Court agrees with the well-reasoned conclusions of the
Magistrate Judge regarding the ALJ's RFC analysis, it
will overrule Plaintiff's first objection.
Plaintiff's second objection, he asserts the Magistrate
Judge wrongfully suggested the ALJ committed no error in his
evaluation of Dr. Rhine's opinions and in according the
opinions little weight. Plaintiff states he is
“confused” by the Magistrate Judge's
discussion of Dr. Rhine's lifting restrictions and
Plaintiff's elbow. Plaintiff then admits he
“returns to the original argument” regarding the
ALJ's evaluation of Dr. Rhine's opinions. ECF No. 21
at 5. Specifically, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erroneously