United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Margaret B. Seymour, Senior United States District Judge
21, 2016, Plaintiff Keena Moore Pratt, filed the within
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3) seeking judicial review of a final decision of the
Defendant, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”), denying her claim for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).
filed her DIB application on December 13, 2012, alleging
disability beginning November 4, 2008. Tr. 44. Plaintiff, on
the advice of her counsel, later amended her alleged onset
date to February 19, 2010. Tr. 261. The application was
denied initially, Tr. 88, as well as on reconsideration. Tr.
98. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on November 6, 2014. Tr. 117. The ALJ
issued his decision on December 29, 2014. He determined that
while Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments
could reasonably be expected to cause Plaintiff's alleged
symptoms, the Plaintiff's “statements concerning
the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of
[Plaintiff's] symptoms [were] not entirely
credible.” Tr. 16. Thus, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not under a disability within the meaning of
the Social Security Act. Tr. 21. Plaintiff filed a request
for review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the
Appeals Council on May 19, 2016, making the ALJ's
decision the “final decision” of the
Commissioner. Tr. 1.
February 2, 2017, Plaintiff filed her brief challenging the
ALJ's decision on three grounds: “(1) the ALJ's
two step findings [were] not supported by substantial
evidence; (2) the ALJ improperly discounted the opinion of
[Plaintiff's] treating physician; and (3) the ALJ's
credibility analysis [was] not supported by substantial
evidence.” ECF No. 14 at 1. The Commissioner filed her
response to Plaintiff's brief on March 9, 2017, ECF No.
15, to which Plaintiff replied on March 23, 2017. ECF No. 17.
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02
(D.S.C.), this matter was referred to United States
Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett for a Report and
Recommendation (“Report”). On October 16, 2017,
the Magistrate Judge filed her Report recommending that the
Commissioner's decision to deny benefits be reversed and
remanded. ECF No. 19. The Magistrate Judge concluded that
remand was warranted based on Plaintiff's third issue,
which questioned the ALJ's credibility analysis.
Id. at 5. Noting that consideration of
Plaintiff's third issue may impact the remaining two
issues, the Magistrate Judge declined to address the
remaining issues identified in Plaintiff's brief.
Id. at 5, n.5. Neither party objected to the
Magistrate Judge doing so. The Commissioner filed one
objection to the Report on October 20, 2017. ECF. No. 20.
Plaintiff did not reply to the Commissioner's objection.
matter is now before the court for review of the Magistrate
Judge's Report. The court is charged with making a de
novo determination of any portions of the Report to
which a specific objection is made. The court may accept,
reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation
made by the Magistrate Judge or may recommit the matter to
the Magistrate Judge with instructions. 28. U.S.C. §
STANDARD OF REVIEW
role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme
established by the Social Security Act is a limited one.
Section 205(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. § 4059(g). “Substantial
evidence has been defined innumerable times 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). The court must uphold the
Commissioner's decision as long as it is supported by
substantial evidence. Blalock v. Richardson, 483
F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). “From this it does not
follow, however, that the findings of the administrative
agency are to be mechanically accepted. The statutorily
granted right of review contemplates more than 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, and that [her] conclusion is rational.”
Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.
Commissioner's findings of fact are not binding if they
were based upon the application of an improper legal
standard. Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th
Cir. 1987). However, the Commissioner's denial of
benefits shall be reversed only if no reasonable mind could
accept the record as adequate to support that determination.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
was born in 1971 and was thirty-eight years old on the day of
her amended disability onset date. Tr. 261. She has a college
education and past relevant work experience as pharmacy
technician. Tr. 202. Plaintiff alleges disability due to
chronic fatigue, immune deficiency, fibromyalgia, high blood
pressure, diabetes, and gastrointestinal problems. Tr. 201.
Commissioner alleges in her objection that the Magistrate
Judge erred in her determination that the ALJ did not
properly follow the two-step process for determining
Plaintiff's credibility. ECF No. 20 at 1. At issue is the
second step of the two-step process, which requires the ALJ
to expressly consider “the intensity and persistence of
the claimant's pain and the extent to which it affects
her ability to work.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d
585, 595 (4th Cir. 1996). The Commissioner asserts that the
ALJ appropriately explained why Plaintiff was not entirely
credible, and that the ALJ did not solely rely on
objective medical evidence in making his credibility
determination. ECF No. 20 at 2-3 (emphasis added). In
considering the entire record, the Commissioner argues that
the ALJ showed how Plaintiff's subjective allegations
were “inconsistent with both the mostly normal
examination findings and Plaintiff's daily
activities.” Id. at 3. Arguing that
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's credibility
determination, the Commissioner urges the court to affirm the
Commissioner's decision and deny Plaintiff's appeal.
Id. at 4; Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d
650, 658 (4th Cir. 2005) (upholding a credibility
determination based on substantial evidence that supported
the ALJ's credibility assessment).
Magistrate Judge cited to Lewis v. Berryhill, which
held that the requirement to produce objective medical
evidence supporting claims of pain intensity during the
second step of the two-step process improperly increases a
claimant's burden of proof. 858 F.3d 858, 866 (4th Cir.
2017). The Magistrate Judge properly concluded
that the ALJ's analysis regarding Plaintiff's
subjective complaints appeared to “improperly rest upon
a lack of objective evidence supporting them, ” which
the law precludes. ECF No. 19 at 7; see Lewis, 858
F.3d at 890. Furthermore, while the Commissioner indicated
that there were inconsistencies between Plaintiff's
testimony and the objective medical evidence of record, the
Commissioner did not explain how the inconsistences were
connected to Plaintiff's subjective complaints.
Id. at 8; see Lewis, 858 F.3d at 869.
Although the Magistrate Judge stated that the decision to