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 his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). 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 January 8, 2019, Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon
Baker issued a Report and Recommendation
(“Report”), recommending that the decision of the
Commissioner be affirmed. ECF No. 17. On February 1, 2019,
Plaintiff filed Objections to the Report, and the
Commissioner filed a Reply on February 14, 2019. ECF Nos. 20,
21. 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
(1976). 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.
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 on September 24, 2013, alleging that she had
been disabled since November 12, 2012, due to, inter
alia, collagenous colitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease, and essential tremors. Plaintiff's claims were
denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ"), which was held on May 27, 2014. The ALJ
denied Plaintiff's claims in a decision issued on
September 13, 2016. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for a review, making the
determination of the ALJ the final decision of the
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 ALJ properly evaluated the
opinions of treating physicians. For the reasons detailed
below, this Court denies Plaintiff's objections and
adopts the Report's recommendations.
the regulations of the Social Security Administration,
Commissioner is obligated to consider all medical evidence
presented, including the opinions of medical sources. 20
C.F.R. § 1527(c). The regulations require ALJs to
“give more weight to medical opinions from [a
plaintiff's] treating sources, since these sources are
likely to be the medical professionals most able to provide a
detailed, longitudinal picture of [a plaintiff's] medical
impairment(s) and may bring a unique perspective to the
medical evidence that cannot be obtained from the objective
medical findings alone or from reports of individual
examinations, such as consultative examinations or brief
hospitalizations.” Id. § 416.1527(c)(2).
If the ALJ “find[s] that a treating source's
medical opinion on the issue(s) of the nature and severity of
[a plaintiff's] impairment(s) is well-supported by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial
evidence in [a plaintiff's] case record, [the ALJ] will
give it controlling weight.” Id. When,
however, the ALJ does not give a treating physician's
opinion controlling weight, the ALJ must consider a number of
factors including: (1) the length of the treatment
relationship and the frequency of examination; (2) the nature
and extent of the treatment relationship; (3) the
supportability of the physician's opinion; (4) the
consistency of the opinion with the medical records; (5)
whether the physician is a specialist; and (6) any other
relevant factors. Id. § 416.927(c).
on these regulations, the Report comprehensively evaluated
the opinions offered by four treating physicians-Dr. James R.
Bloodworth, Dr. Catherine Chang, Dr. Michael I. Rickoff, and
Dr. Fredy Revilla-and determined that the ALJ's
evaluation of those opinions is supported by substantial
evidence. Plaintiff's lengthy objections do not raise
specific, organized arguments in response to the Report,
instead merely summarizing the Magistrate Judge's
findings and arguing against those findings. For ease of
reference, the Court will address each of Plaintiff's
objections within the structure utilized by the Report.
Bloodworth and Dr. Chang completed questionnaires in which
they opined on Plaintiff's limitations due to her COPD.
The ALJ afforded these opinions little weight, finding that
Dr. Bloodworth's opinion that Plaintiff should be limited
to sedentary exertional work was "not supported by [the]
record as a whole" and "gives undue weight to the
[Plaintiff's] subjective complaints." ECF No. 8-2 at
33. Similarly, the ALJ gave Dr. Chang's opinion that
Plaintiff would need "frequent absences from work likely
due to exacerbation of [COPD]" little weight because it
was "not supported by [the] record as a whole with a
limitation that would cause the absences." Id.;
ECF No. 8-11 at 2. The ALJ also found Dr. Chang's opinion
to be conclusory with little explanation in support. ECF No.
8-2 at 33.
Report found substantial evidence to support both of these
opinions after thoroughly reviewing the medical evidence in
the record. Plaintiff's objections to this finding are
difficult to follow and not clearly stated; however, the
Court has conducted a de novo review of the ALJ's
decision and the evidence in the record. Based on this
review, the Court adopts the Report's findings and
incorporates them herein by reference. Although Plaintiff
disagrees with the ALJ's evaluation of these opinions,
this Court is concerned only with whether the ALJ applied the
proper legal standard and whether the ALJ's decision is
supported by substantial evidence. Under this deferential
standard, the ALJ's evaluation of Dr. Bloodworth and Dr.
Chang's opinions must be affirmed.