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Williamson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

March 6, 2018

Kimberla Jean Williamson, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Timothy M. Cain, United States District Judge.

         The plaintiff, Kimberla Jean Williamson (“Williamson”), brought this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (“SSA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), [1] denying her 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 that the court affirm the Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 17).[2] In the Report, the magistrate judge sets forth the relevant facts and legal standards, which are incorporated herein by reference. Williamson filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 19), and the Commissioner responded to those objections (ECF No. 21). Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for review.


         On April 8, 2013, Williamson filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging a disability onset date of August 7, 2012. (ECF No. 10-5 at 1-14). These claims were denied both initially and on reconsideration by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). (ECF No. 10-3). Williamson then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (ECF No. 10-4 at 17), and on February 4, 2015, ALJ Marshall D. Riley conducted a video hearing on Williamson's claims for DIB and SSI (ECF No. 10-2 at 29-54). Williamson was represented by counsel at the hearing. (ECF No. 10-2 at 29). On February 19, 2016, the ALJ issued an opinion finding that Williamson was not disabled. (ECF No. 10-2 at 9-21).

         In his decision, the ALJ found Williamson met the insured status requirements under the Social Security Act through December 31, 2015, and that Williamson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 7, 2012, the alleged onset date of disability. (ECF No. 10-2 at 14). The ALJ further found that Williamson suffered from the following severe impairments: disorders of the spine, Restrictive Lung Disease, obesity, and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but found that Williamson did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (ECF No. 10-2 at 14-15). Additionally, the ALJ calculated Williamson's residual functional capacity and determined that, though she would be unable to perform past relevant work, there were jobs in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform. (ECF No. 10-2 at 15-19). Williamson subsequently appealed to the Appeals Council, and the Appeals Council denied her request for review of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 10-2 at 2-4). Therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. This action followed.


         The 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).

         However, “[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.


         The magistrate judge filed a Report, recommending that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. (ECF No. 17). In her objections, Williamson stated that both the ALJ and the magistrate judge ignored the fact that Williamson required a cane to ambulate when they evaluated Williamson's residual functional capacity. (ECF No. 19 at 11-12). The court finds that the magistrate judge has fully addressed Williamson's concerns regarding the cane and that this objection does not add any new argument to Williamson's earlier assertions; therefore, this is not a specific objection to the Report. Furthermore, the court agrees with the magistrate judge's analysis and determination on the issue of the use of the cane, and, therefore, the objection is overruled.

         However, Williamson did file the following specific objections to the Report: (1) that the both the ALJ and the magistrate judge ignored the medical records of Dr. Parker Lilly, one of Williamson's treating physicians; (2) that the ALJ improperly disregarded the opinion of Certified Nurse Practitioner Wright; and (3) that the ALJ improperly discredited Plaintiff's testimony and the magistrate judge's evaluation of Plaintiff's credibility was internally inconsistent. (ECF No. 19). The court finds these objections without merit for the reasons stated below, and, therefore, overrules these objections.

         I. Medical Records of Dr. Parker Lilly

         Williamson argues that the medical records of Dr. Parker Lilly, one of her treating physicians, has been “completely disregarded, ignored, and approached as if imaginary.” (ECF No. 19 at 3). Williamson states that both the ALJ and the magistrate judge failed to acknowledge the existence of these records and that the ALJ improperly failed to assign these records any weight in his decision. (ECF No. 19 at 2). However, Williamson's contention that the ALJ ignored these records is wholly inaccurate. When describing Williamson's medical history, the ALJ did not specifically state which medical professional conducted each of the various tests or made each of the specific diagnoses. (ECF No. 10-2 at 14-19). However, the ALJ did cite to the medical records of Dr. Lilly when describing Williamson's medical history. Id. Specifically, the ALJ described how in March 2013, Williamson was diagnosed with restrictive lung disease, anemia, hypertension, and obesity; how she followed up with her primary care physician after being hospitalized and diagnosed with diabetes mellitus in April 2013; how she was treated for complained of leg cramps in May 2013; how she was diagnosed with extremity cramps, lumbar stenosis, and obesity in May 2013; and how she was seen by a physician for swollen and painful legs in August 2013. (ECF No. 10-2 at 17). After discussing each of these facts, the ALJ cited to the medical records of Dr. Parker Lilly. Id. Additionally, the ALJ specifically stated that Williamson “has a cane prescribed by Dr. Lilly” but acknowledged that Williamson stated that she was “unable to continue seeing Dr. Lilly because she [did] not have insurance.” (ECF No. 10-2 at 16). Moreover, the ALJ stated that he considered all of the medical evidence in reaching his determinations. (ECF No. 10-2 at 16). Based on this statement and the fact that the ALJ specifically described various records of Dr. Lilly's, the court finds that the ALJ did not ignore the medical records of Dr. Lilly, and, therefore, overrules Williamson's objection.

         Plaintiff further objects to the ALJ not assigning a weight to Dr. Lilly's records. (ECF No. 19 at 3-4). In support of her assertion that the ALJ must assign these records with an appropriate weight, Williamson cites 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c) and 416.927(c), which set forth how the Social Security Administration considers medical opinions and what weight the Administration should give the opinions in considering claims for DIB and SSI. (ECF No. 19 at 3). However, as the magistrate judge clearly noted, Dr. Lilly did not offer a medical opinion regarding Plaintiff's functional limitations. (ECF No. 17 at 22, n.12). Still, Williamson asserts that because Dr. Lilly's records indicate diagnoses of various physical ailments, namely restrictive lung disease and muscle weakness, that Dr. Lilly's records are entitled to ...

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