United States District Court, D. South Carolina
OPINION AND ORDER
C. COGGINS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
brings 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 January 29, 2019, Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon
Baker issued a Report and Recommendation
(“Report”), recommending that the decision of the
Commissioner be reversed and remanded. ECF No. 13. On
February 11, 2019, the Commissioner filed objections to the
Report. ECF No. 15. On February 14, 2019, Plaintiff filed a
Reply. ECF No. 16. 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 in July 2014, alleging that she has
been disabled since January 29, 2012, due to diabetes,
hypertension, depression, anxiety and PTSD. Plaintiff's
claims were denied initially, and Plaintiff requested a
hearing before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
The ALJ denied Plaintiff's claims in a written decision.
Plaintiff asked the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's
decision; however, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review.
request for judicial review, Plaintiff raises four claims.
First, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ improperly discounted her
treating psychologist's opinions. Second, Plaintiff
contends the ALJ improperly assessed her mental RFC. Third,
Plaintiff claims the ALJ improperly evaluated her
testimony's consistency with other evidence. Finally,
Plaintiff contends the ALJ provided the vocational expert
flawed hypothetical questions.
Magistrate Judge provides a thorough recitation of the facts
of this case and the applicable legal standards in her
Report, which the Court incorporates by reference. The
Magistrate Judge evaluated the merits of Plaintiff's
arguments and found Plaintiff's third claim meritorious.
In that regard, the Magistrate Judge found that the ALJ's
evaluation of Plaintiff's subjective complaints was
insufficient to allow judicial review. Therefore, the
Magistrate Judge recommended remanding the case so that the
ALJ may provide the requisite analysis. The Commissioner
filed Objections, claiming the Commissioner properly
evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints.
Commissioner contends the ALJ issued a well-reasoned opinion
with a credibility determination that is supported by
substantial evidence. In Reply, Plaintiff contends that the
"ALJ made no more than a boilerplate finding on
[Plaintiff's] statements by finding they were
inconsistent with the evidence without specifying what
statements were found inconsistent with other[s] nor what
other evidence those statements allegedly conflicted
with." ECF No. 16 at 2. The Court agrees with Plaintiff
and overrules the Commissioner's objections.
Report thoroughly outlines the regulations applicable to
evaluating subjective complaints, including the two-step that
the ALJ must use. See ECF No. 13 at 5-6. The Court
has reviewed the ALJ's decision, which merely summarily
concludes Plaintiff's subjective complaints are
unsupported by the medical evidence. See ECF No. 7-2
at 17 ("At the February 10, 2017, hearing, the claimant
appeared and gave testimony that was inconsistent and
unsupported by her medical evidence of record."). Yet,
the ALJ's decision does not identify what parts of
Plaintiff's testimony about her symptoms were inconstant
with other evidence. As the Report correctly notes, SSR 16-3p
requires such specificity. See ECF No. 13 at 6-7
(discussing the regulation's requirements for specific
discussion of inconsistencies). Moreover, the ALJ did not
discuss the relevant factors for evaluating symptoms at
all, much less demonstrate that he actually considered
the factors. To that end, this Court rejects
Commissioner's argument that reviewing courts must rubber
stamp an ALJ's decision that contains merely a blanket
statement that the ALJ has considered the relevant
regulations. See ECF No. 15 at 4.
reasons set forth above, the Court adopts the Report,
reverses the decision of the Commissioner, and remands
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for