United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division
Robert Cleveland Mabry, Jr. Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AND OPINION
MARVIN QUATTLEBAUM, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
a Social Security appeal brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) in which Plaintiff Robert
Cleveland Mabry, Jr. (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial
review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his
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 DSC, this matter was referred to a United States
Magistrate Judge for pre-trial handling. The Magistrate Judge
issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) on
March 27, 2018, recommending that the Commissioner's
decision be affirmed. (ECF No. 17). Plaintiff filed
objections to the Report on April 10, 2018 (ECF No. 21), and
the Commissioner filed her reply on April 19, 2018. (ECF No.
22.) The Court has reviewed Plaintiff's objection, but,
in light of the record, finds them to be without merit.
Therefore, the Court adopts the Report of the Magistrate
Judge and affirms the decision of the Commissioner, as
further explained below.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Report sets forth in detail the relevant facts and standards
of law on this matter, and the Court incorporates them and
summarizes below in relevant part. Plaintiff filed an
application for DIB and SSI benefits on April 7, 2015 and
April 12, 2016, respectively. Plaintiff alleges a disability
onset date of April 1, 2015, subsequently amended to August
1, 2015. (Tr. at 21.) The application was denied initially
and upon reconsideration by the Social Security
Administration. (Tr. at 21.) Plaintiff requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on
June 13, 2016. (Tr. at 21.) The ALJ heard testimony before
Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert, Courtney
Stiles, at a hearing on October 6, 2016. (Tr. at 21.) On
November 14, 2016, the ALJ issued a ruling and found that
Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined by the Social
Security Act. (Tr. at 20-41.) The Social Security Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 4,
2017 (Tr. at 1), making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff subsequently filed an
action in this Court on May 22, 2017. (ECF No. 1.)
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Magistrate Judge recommends affirming the ALJ's decision.
(ECF No. 17 at 30.) The 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 Report and Recommendation to which specific objection is
made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole
or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or
recommit the matter to him with instructions. 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1). “However, the Court is not required
to review, under a de novo or any other standard,
the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as
to those portions of the report and recommendation to which
no objections are addressed. While the level of scrutiny
entailed by the Court's review of the Report thus depends
on whether or not objections have been filed, in either case
the Court is free, after review, to accept, reject, or modify
any of the magistrate judge's findings or
recommendations.” Wallace v. Housing Auth. of the
City of Columbia, 791 F.Supp. 137, 138 (D.S.C. 1992)
(internal citations omitted).
Report, the Magistrate Judge considered Plaintiff's
argument that the ALJ erred in his evaluation of the medical
opinions of treating physicians Drs. Gheorghiu and
Westmoreland, and in giving significant weight to the
opinions of examining physician Dr. Junker and state agency
reviewing physicians Drs. El-Ibiary and Lang. (ECF No. 17 at
19.) The Magistrate Judge considered the several reasons
articulated by the ALJ as to why the opinions of Drs.
Gheorghiu and Westmoreland could not be given controlling
weight, and the ALJ's consideration of the same in light
of the evidence in the record. (ECF No. 17 at 20.) The
Magistrate Judge found that the ALJ gave Dr. Gheorghiu and
Dr. Westmoreland's opinions proper consideration and
weight based on the entire record, and so recommended to this
Court. (ECF No. 17 at 26, 28.) The Magistrate Judge also
considered the weight given by the ALJ to the opinions of
Drs. El-Ibiary and Lang in light of the entire record and
found the reliance on those opinions to be appropriately
considered and weighed. (ECF No. 17 at 29-30.) The Magistrate
Judge thus recommended that the Commissioner's decision
be affirmed, as it was based on substantial evidence and free
from error. (ECF No. 17 at 30.)
filed objections to the Report (“Objections”) on
April 10, 2018. (ECF No. 21.) Specifically, Plaintiff argues
that the Magistrate Judge did not properly consider Dr.
Gheorghiu's opinions, the objective findings supporting
his opinions, the record of Plaintiff's work history and
activities in light Dr. Gheorghiu's opinion and
Plaintiff's limitations Dr. Gheorghiu identified in light
of the diagnostic evidence. (ECF No. 21 at 3-5.) Plaintiff
also suggests that the Magistrate Judge overlooked the fact
that the ALJ found Plaintiff to have severe impairments of
anxiety and dysthymia. (ECF No. 21 at 3). Plaintiff claims
the Magistrate Judge also ignored the fact that Dr.
Gheorghiu's August 10, 2015 Physical Assessment indicated
that Plaintiff had symptoms of numbness and tingling in his
hands and feet as well as weakness, as those symptoms were
not inconsistent with Mr. Gheorghiu's other opinions.
(ECF No. 21 at 2.) Plaintiff also objects to the Magistrate
Judge's discounting of Dr. Gheorghiu's opinion
concerning Plaintiff's depression. (ECF No. 21 at 3-4.)
Finally, Plaintiff argues that the Magistrate Judge failed to
recognize the import of the ALJ's error concerning the
definition of “sedentary work” applied by Dr.
Gheorghiu in that the ALJ specifically indicated that a
purported difference in definitions was one reason he
rejected Dr. Gheorghiu's opinions. (ECF No. 21 at 6.)
Plaintiff maintains that the ALJ's errors regarding Dr.
Gheorghiu's opinions apply equally to Dr.
Westmoreland's opinions. (ECF No. 21 at 7.) In sum,
Plaintiff states that both the treating specialist and
primary provider gave consistent opinions supporting
disability and that remand is required to allow for a proper
evaluation of the opinion evidence in this case. (ECF No. 21
Commissioner filed a reply to Plaintiff's objections to
the Report asking this Court to affirm the final
administrative decision by adopting the Report. (ECF No. 22.)
The Commissioner argues that the Magistrate Judge correctly
found that the ALJ provided ample, well-supported reasons for
finding that controlling weight could not be given to the
opinions of Drs. Gheorghiu and Westmoreland.
DISCUSSION OF THE LAW
STANDARD OF REVIEW
role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme
established by the Social Security Act is a limited one.
Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the court may only review
whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of
the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . .
.”); Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982 (4th
Cir. 1980). “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); see, e.g., Daniel v.
Gardner, 404 F.2d 889 (4th Cir. 1968); Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966). This standard
precludes de novo review of the factual circumstances that
substitutes the Court's findings of fact for those of the
Commissioner. Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th
Cir. 1971). Accordingly, “the court [must] uphold the
[Commissioner's] decision even should the court disagree
with such decision as long as it is supported by
‘substantial evidence.'” Blalock v.
Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972).
the federal court's review role is a limited one,
“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). Further, the Commissioner's findings of
fact are not binding if they were based upon the application
of an improper standard or misapplication of the law.
Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 519 (4th Cir. 1987).
“[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. In order for a reviewing
court to determine whether the Commissioner based a decision