United States District Court, D. South Carolina
ORDER REJECTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION,
VACATING DEFENDANT'S DENIAL OF PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS FOR
BENEFITS, AND REMANDING THIS CASE
GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
a Social Security appeal in which Plaintiff Consolla Stowers
(Stowers) seeks judicial review of the final decision of
Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration (Commissioner), denying her
claims for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and
supplemental security income (SSI). The matter is before the
Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (Report) of
the United States Magistrate Judge suggesting the Court
affirm the Commissioner's decision denying Stowers's
claim for DIB and SSI. The Report was made in accordance with
28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the
District of South Carolina.
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The
responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976).
The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of
those portions of the Report 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 with instructions. 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1). The Court need not conduct a de novo review,
however, “when a party makes general and conclusory
objections that do not direct the court to a specific error
in the [Magistrate Judge's] proposed findings and
recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d
44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).
Thus, the Court will address each specific objection to the
Report in turn. As provided above, however, the Court need
not-and will not-address any of Stowers's arguments that
fail to point the Court to alleged specific errors the
Magistrate Judge made in the Report.
Magistrate Judge filed the Report on September 10, 2018. ECF
No. 25. Stowers filed her sole objection on September 24,
2018, ECF No. 26, and the Commissioner replied on October 9,
2018, ECF No. 28.
filed her applications for DIB and SSI in November 2013,
asserting her disability commenced on May 25, 2013.
Stowers's applications were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. The administrative law judge (ALJ) conducted
a hearing on Stowers's applications on February 26, 2016.
On May 12, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision
holding Stowers not disabled under the Social Security Act
(the Act). Stowers requested review by the Appeals Council
and submitted additional evidence for review. The Appeals
Council subsequently denied Stowers's request for review
of the ALJ's decision. Stowers appealed to this Court on
June 21, 2017.
sole objection to the Report is the Appeals Council erred in
denying review of the ALJ's decision because new
evidence, submitted in the form of a letter from Dr. Arthur
Smith, justified vacating the ALJ's decision and
remanding the claims for a new hearing decision. Stowers
contends the Magistrate Judge erred in suggesting this
evidence was “duplicative of the evidence that was
before the ALJ at the time of the hearing.” ECF No. 25
at 29. Having reviewed the record, the Court is unable to say
the evidence submitted to the Appeals Council was duplicative
of the evidence already in the record. Therefore, the Court
will reject the Report and vacate and remand this case to the
ALJ for consideration of the new evidence submitted from
Stowers's treating physician.
proper manner and procedure for handling new evidence
submitted to an Appeals Council was discussed extensively in
Meyer v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 700 (4th Cir. 2011). When
a claimant requests review of an ALJ decision, the Appeals
Council may deny or dismiss the request for review, or it may
grant the request and either issue a decision or remand the
case to the ALJ. Id. at 704.
regulations specifically permit claimants to submit
additional evidence, not before the ALJ, when requesting
review by the Appeals Council. See id.; see also 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.968, 404.970(b). In such cases, the
Appeals Council first determines if the submission
constitutes “new and material” evidence that
“relates to the period on or before the date of the
[ALJ's] hearing decision.” Id. §
404.970(b). Evidence is new “if it is not duplicative
or cumulative” and is material if there is “a
reasonable possibility that the new evidence would have
changed the outcome.” Wilkins v. Sec'y, Dept.
of Health & Human Servs., 953 F.2d 93, 96 (4th Cir.
claimant submits additional evidence that was not before the
ALJ when requesting review by the Appeals Council, if the
evidence is new and material, the Appeals Council is to
evaluate the entire record including the new and material
evidence to see if it warrants any change in the ALJ's
decision. See. 20 C.F.R. § 404.970(b). In this
case, the Appeals Council concluded the new evidence was not
material and therefore did not provide a basis for changing
the ALJ's decision. ECF No. 25 at 28. After careful
review of the new evidence, the Court concludes the Appeals
Council erred in determining this new evidence was not
material, and the Magistrate Judge erred in determining this
evidence was duplicative of evidence before the ALJ at the
time of the hearing.
should affirm an ALJ's denial of benefits after reviewing
new evidence presented to the Appeals Council where, even
with this new evidence, substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's findings. Meyer, 662 F.3d at 707; see
also Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 638-39 (4th Cir.
1996). Conversely, reversal is required if on consideration
of the record as a whole, the court “simply cannot
determine whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
denial of benefits…” Meyer, 662 F.3d at
evidence submitted in the form of a letter from Dr. Arthur
Smith dated December 1, 2016, set forth the following
. Dr. Smith saw Stowers in May 2012 and last
saw her in July 2014.
. Stowers initially complained of decreased
strength and sensation in the right lower extremity and has
degenerative disc disease in her lumbar spine.
. MRI and NCV studies confirmed L2-3 and
L4-5 degenerative disc disease associated with disc
protrusion and damage ...