United States District Court, D. South Carolina
OPINION AND ORDER
C. Coggins, Jr., United States District Judge.
has brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
seeking judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”)
denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. §
636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 (D.S.C.), this matter was
referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for pre-trial
handling. On November 15, 2017, Magistrate Judge Bristow
Marchant issued a Report and Recommendation
(“Report”), recommending that the decision of the
Commissioner be affirmed. ECF No. 18. On December 15, 2017,
Plaintiff filed objections to the Report, ECF No. 23, and the
Commissioner filed a reply on December 29, 2017, ECF No. 24.
For the reasons stated below, the Court adopts the Report and
incorporates it herein by reference.
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
this Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71.
The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of
only those portions of the Report that have been specifically
objected to, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify the
Report, in whole or in part. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme
established by the Social Security Act (“the
Act”) is a limited one. Section 205(g) of the Act
provides, “[t]he findings of the Secretary 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. Celebreeze, 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 was
supported by substantial evidence and reached through the
application of the correct legal standard. Johnson v.
Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650 (4th Cir. 2005). “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 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, and that his conclusion is
rational.” Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.
applied for DIB and SSI on September 12, 2011, alleging that
she has been disabled since November 25, 2010, due to major
depressive disorder, headaches, bipolar disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder, high blood pressure, and
panic attacks. Plaintiff's claims were denied initially
and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which
was held on January 9, 2013. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's
claims in a decision issued January 25, 2013. The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review, making
the determination of the ALJ the final decision of the
Commissioner. Plaintiff then filed an action in the United
States District Court for the District of South Carolina
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision. Nelson v. Colvin, No. 9:13-cv-2791-RBH. In
an Order dated January 14, 2015, the Court reversed the
Commissioner's decision and remanded the case for further
proceedings. Thereafter, new hearings were held before the
ALJ on January 29, 2016, and April 22, 2016. The ALJ issued a
decision on May 27, 2016, again finding that Plaintiff was
not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Plaintiff did not
seek review from the Appeals Counsel, and the ALJ decision of
May 27, 2016, is the final decision of the Commissioner.
Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court affirm the
Commissioner's decision because it is supported by
substantial evidence and the proper legal standards were
applied. Plaintiff objects to the Report, claiming that the
Magistrate erred in finding that the ALJ: (1) properly
considered and weighed the opinions of medical professionals;
(2) appropriately determined that Plaintiff did not meet the
requirements of Listing 12.04; and (3) properly evaluated
Plaintiff's credibility. For the reasons discussed below,
the Court adopts the Report.
Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ's consideration and
weighing of various medical opinions was erroneous.
Specifically, Plaintiff contends “that the Magistrate
denigrates the opinion of Dr. Cathleen Kouvolo, a treating
psychiatrist at the Charleston Mental Health Center, ”
ECF No. 23 at 3, and that the Magistrate dismissed or ignored
the opinions of counselor Ashley Lauderdale and case manager
Patty Chrysostom. ECF No. 23 at 5. After reviewing the record
and submissions of the parties, this Court overrules
Magistrate noted, “the ALJ specifically considered Dr.
Kouvolo's opinions, but accorded them little
weight.” ECF No. 18 at 18. There is substantial
evidence in the record to support this because Dr. Kouvolo
only saw Plaintiff one time and noted that Plaintiff's
mental status examination was unremarkable. Significantly,
Dr. Kouvol's recommendations on the assessment forms do
not align with her own treatment notes or the medical records
from other providers. See Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d
585, 590 (4th Cir. 1996) (“[I]f a physician's
opinion is not supported by clinical evidence or if it is
inconsistent with other substantial evidence, it should be
accorded significantly less weight.”). Similarly, as to
Ms. Lauderdale, the ALJ afforded her opinion some weight
despite the fact that she was not an acceptable medical
source pursuant to the regulations in place at the time and
because her opinions are not supported by objective findings
in the record. Finally, as to Ms. Chrysostom, Plaintiff has
not indicated what evidence, if any, the ALJ failed to
consider in fashioning the decision. In sum, the ALJ's
opinion is well supported by the record in this case, and
there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's
weighing of the evidence.
Plaintiff alleges that the Magistrate erred in finding that
the ALJ appropriately considered the evidence in concluding
that Plaintiff did not have marked restrictions in Paragraph
B of Listing 12.04. The Commissioner, on the other hand,
contends that the ALJ sufficiently explained the Listing
analysis and that substantial evidence supports the finding
that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. The Court
agrees with the Commissioner.
12.04 relates to Affective Disorders and is met when the
requirements in both Paragraphs A and B are satisfied, or
when the requirements in Paragraph C are satisfied.
Plaintiff's objection is directed at the ALJ's
finding that Plaintiff's conditions did not satisfy the
requirements of Paragraph B, which requires that Plaintiff
have an affective disorder set out in Paragraph A that
results in at least two of the following: (1) Marked
restriction of activities of daily living; (2) Marked
difficulties in maintaining social functioning; (3) Marked
difficulties in maintaining ...