United States District Court, D. South Carolina
Richard Mark Gergel, United States District Judge
brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to
obtain relief from the final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration denying her disability
insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. In
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule
73.02 DSC, this matter was referred to a United States
Magistrate Judge for pretrial handling. The Magistrate Judge
issued a Report and Recommendation ("R & R")
December 15, 2017, recommending that the Commissioner's
decision be affirmed. (Dkt. No. 24). Plaintiff filed
objections to the Magistrate's Judge's R & R and
the Commissioner filed a response. (Dkt. Nos. 26, 28).
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 R & R to which specific
objection has been made, and may accept, reject, or modify,
in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate
Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme of
the Social Security Act is a limited one. Section 405(g) of
the Act provides that "[t]he 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 innumerable times as more than a scintilla, but less
than preponderance." Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331
F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964). This standard precludes de
novo review of factual circumstances that substitutes
the Court's findings for those of the Commissioner.
Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971).
the federal court's review role is limited, "it does
not follow, however, that the findings of the administrative
agency are mechanically accepted. The statutorily granted
right of review contemplates:more than an uncritical rubber
stamping of the administrative action." Flack v.
Cohen, 413 F.2d 278, 279 (4th Cir. 1969). "[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."
Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.
appeal involves Plaintiffs challenge to the denial of
disability insurance benefits. Plaintiffs claim is based
primarily upon mental health related issues, including
depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and
anxiety disorder. The record contains the findings and
opinions of one treating physician, Dr. Michael Wilcox, and
three non-treating examining health care providers, Dr.
Cashton Spivey, Dr. John Custer, and Dr. Harriet Steinert.
The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) gave "little
weight" to the opinions of Dr. Steinert because she had
"diagnosed the claimant with mental impairments, but
without accompanying mental limitations . . ." Tr. 27.
The ALJ provided "only partial weight" to the
opinions of Dr. Spivey, noting that at one point in his
report he found that the claimant had "fair to good
attention and concentration" with the ability to perform
simple and complex tasks and stated at another point in the
report that the claimant would "would display some
difficulty with persistence due to problems with attention
and concentration." Tr. 27, 463. The ALJ also gave only
"partial weight" to the opinions of Dr. Custer,
noting his uncertainty regarding the claimant's diagnosis
and treatment. Tr. 28, 483-86.
regard to the findings and opinions of Plaintiff s primary
treating physician, Dr. Wilcox, the ALJ documented the
remarkably inconsistent responses Dr. Wilcox gave in a June
24, 2014 questionnaire and in a October 30, 2014
questionnaire. In the initial responses of June 24, 2014, Dr.
Wilcox found that Plaintiff was "good" or
"adequate" in all fields assessed, including the
ability to perform simple and complex tasks, relate to
others, and complete basic activities of daily living. He
also found her attention/concentration to be adequate and her
thought content appropriate. Tr. 387. However, in Dr.
Wilcox's October 30, 2014 responses, he opined that
Plaintiff had "marked restrict of activities of daily
living, " "marked difficulties in maintaining
social functioning, " and "deficiencies of
concentration, persistence or pace resulting in frequent
failure to complete tasks in a timely manner." Tr.
461-63. Dr. Wilcox did not address the striking
inconsistencies in the two reports and nothing in his office
notes during the period between June and October 2014
supported such a dramatic change in his findings and
opinions. Tr. 455, 456, 457. After reviewing Dr. Wilcox's
office notes, the ALJ provided "great weight" to
the June 2014 report and "no weight" to the October
2014 report. Tr. 28.
found the claimant retained the residual functional capacity
for the full range of work at all exertional levels but
placed a number of nonexertional limitations on Plaintiffs
scope of work. These limitations included unskilled work,
defined as "simple, routine, and/or repetitive tasks in
two-hour increments with customary breaks, " no ongoing
interaction with the public and co-workers, and no production
pace work, such as work on an assembly line. Tr. 23. A
vocational expert opined that there were such positions in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform with those limitations. Tr. 54-55.
Magistrate Judge ably reviewed the record in this matter as
well as the findings and conclusions of the ALJ and
recommended that the decision of the Commissioner be
affirmed. Plaintiff filed objections to the R & R,
arguing the Magistrate Judge reweighed the evidence rather
than relying on the ALJ's own analysis. Plaintiff also
complains about the manner in which the opinions of the
various experts were weighed and analyzed by the ALJ. (Dkt.
No. 26). The Court has carefully reviewed the record in full
and was struck by the significant internal conflicts in the
opinions offered by the Dr. Wilcox and the examining
physicians. This required the fact finder, here the ALJ, to
weigh the often conflicting evidence and to make findings
regarding the weight given the opinions of each of the
experts. This weighing of the evidence is quintessentially
the duty of the Commissioner, which is not to be overturned
on appeal if there is substantial evidence to support the
findings of the agency. The Court finds that there is
substantial evidence to support the findings and conclusions
of the Commissioner in this matter.
Court is satisfied that the Magistrate Judge ably and
thoroughly analyzed the factual and legal issues in this
matter and appropriately recommended that the decision of the
Commissioner should be affirmed. Therefore, the Court
ADOPTS the R & R of the Magistrate Judge