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Derrick v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Beaufort Division

July 17, 2018

Keyla Elaine Derrick, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         The plaintiff, Keyla Elaine Derrick (“Derrick”), brought this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (“SSA”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and for 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. Before this court is the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”), recommending that the court affirm the Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 17).[1] In the Report, the magistrate judge sets forth the relevant facts and legal standards, which are incorporated herein by reference. Derrick filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 18), and the Commissioner filed a response to those objections (ECF No. 20). Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for review.


         Derrick applied for SSI on April 12, 2013, and for DIB on April 15, 2013, alleging disability beginning on February 11, 2013. (ECF No. 17 at 1).[2] Derrick's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Id. On October 14, 2015, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) heard testimony from Derrick and a vocational expert. Id. On October 30, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying Derrick's claim. Id. at 1-2.

         In his decision, the ALJ found that Derrick suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disk disease with cervical, thoracic, and lumbar scoliosis; anemia; and chronic venous insufficiency with varicose veins. Id. at 12. The ALJ found that, despite Derrick's limitations, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform. Id. Derrick sought review of her case by the Appeals Council. On December 2, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Derrick's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (ECF No. 10-2 at 2-7). The present 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.


         In her objections, Derrick contends that the magistrate judge erred by finding that substantial evidence supported (1) the ALJ's evaluation of the medical opinion evidence, (2) the ALJ's residual functioning capacity (“RFC”) findings, and (3) the ALJ's analysis of Derrick's credibility.


         First, Derrick argues that the ALJ erred by improperly discounting the opinion of Lindsay Hammett, a family nurse practitioner (“FNP”). (ECF No. 18 at 1). She argues that the ALJ did not analyze Hammett's opinion pursuant to Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 06-03p, that the opinion was more than an administrative finding, and that other notes from the record should support the opinion in question. Id. Derrick reiterates largely the same argument that was presented to and addressed by the magistrate judge, asserting that the magistrate judge failed to adequately address the argument. (ECF Nos. 14 at 17-20, 17 at 13-17, and 18 at 1-4). However, objections to the magistrate judge's Report are not a subsequent opportunity to reargue the merits of a case-they are an opportunity to demonstrate to this Court particular errors in the magistrate judge's reasoning. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Craig, 76 F.3d at 589; Nichols v. Colvin, No. 2:14-cv-50, 2015 WL 1185894, at *8 (E.D. Va. Mar. 13, 2015) (stating that “a mere restatement of the arguments raised in the summary judgment filings does not constitute an ‘objection' for the purposes of district court review.” (citation omitted)). The court agrees with the magistrate judge's assessment.

         Both parties acknowledge that at the time that Derrick's claim was filed and at the time of the ALJ's decision, FNPs were not “acceptable medical sources.”[3] (ECF Nos. 14 at 18 and 15 at 12). SSR 06-03p, 2006 WL 2329939 (Aug. 9, 2006) addresses the significance of the distinction between “acceptable medical sources” and “other sources” as follows:

The distinction between “acceptable medical sources” and other health care providers who are not “acceptable medical sources” is necessary for three reasons. First, we need evidence from “acceptable medical sources” to establish the existence of a medically determinable impairment. See 20 [C.F.R. §§] 404.1513(a) and 416.913(a). Second, only “acceptable medical sources” can give us medical opinions. See 20 [C.F.R. §§] 404.1527(a)(2) and 416.927(a)(2). Third, only “acceptable medical sources” can be considered treating sources, as defined in 20 [C.F.R. ...

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