United States District Court, D. South Carolina
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Bristow Marchant United States Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner wherein she was denied
disability benefits. This case was referred to the
undersigned for a report and recommendation pursuant to Local
Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a)(D.S.C.).
applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and for
Disabled Widow's Benefits (DWB), alleging disability
beginning September 15, 2014 due to a back condition (R.pp.
16, 19, 210-213, 217, 222). Plaintiff's claims were
denied both initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff
then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ), which was held on April 4, 2017. (R.pp. 35-60). The
ALJ thereafter denied Plaintiff's claims in a decision
dated August 2, 2017. (R.pp. 16-26). The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for a review of the ALJ's
decision, thereby making the determination of the ALJ the
final decision of the Commissioner. (R.pp. 1-6).
then filed this action in United States District Court.
Plaintiff asserts that there is not substantial evidence to
support the ALJ's decision, and that the decision should
be reversed and remanded for further review, or for an
outright award of benefits. The Commissioner contends that
the decision to deny benefits is supported by substantial
evidence, and that Plaintiff was properly found not to be
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court's scope of review is
limited to (1) whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the
ultimate conclusions reached by the Commissioner are legally
correct under controlling law. Hays v. Sullivan, 907
F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); Richardson v.
Califano, 574 F.2d 802, 803 (4th Cir. 1978); Myers
v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 98 2-983 (4th Cir. 1980). If
the record contains substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's decision, it is the court's duty to
affirm the decision. Substantial evidence has been defined
evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to
support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a
mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance. If there is evidence to justify
refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then
there is “substantial evidence.”
Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (citing Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640');">368 F.2d 640');">368 F.2d 640');">368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966)); see also
Hepp v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 798, 806 (8th Cir.
2008)[Nothing that the substantial evidence standard is even
“less demanding than the preponderance of the evidence
Court lacks the authority to substitute its own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Laws, 368 F.2d at 642.
“[T]he language of [405(g)] precludes a de novo
judicial proceeding and requires that the court 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).
record reflects that Plaintiff, who was forty-seven (47)
years old on her alleged disability onset date, has a high
school education and an advanced degree in human resource
development. She previously worked as a collections manager
for two different companies before stopping work in 2014
following back surgery. (R.pp. 25, 39-42). In order to be
considered “disabled” within the meaning of the
Social Security Act, Plaintiff must show that she has an
impairment or combination of impairments which prevent her
from engaging in all substantial gainful activity for which
she is qualified by her age, education, experience, and
functional capacity, and which has lasted or could reasonably
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
twelve (12) months.
review of the evidence and testimony in the case the ALJ
determined that, although Plaintiff does suffer from the
“severe” impairments of lumbar degenerative disc
disease status-post, multiple laminectomies, mild cervical
spondylosis, obesity, osteoarthritis of the right knee with
medial meniscal tear, and chronic left shoulder impingement,
she nevertheless retained the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform a limited range of sedentary
with these impairments. (R.pp. 19, 21). The ALJ further
determined that Plaintiff's impairments and resulting RFC
did not prevent her from performing her past relevant work as
a customer service supervisor, and that she was therefore not
entitled to disability benefits. (R.p. 25).
asserts that in reaching this decision the ALJ erred by
failing to properly evaluate the medical opinion of her
treating neurosurgeon, Dr. Greg McLoughlin; by failing to
conduct a function-by-function analysis of Plaintiff's
RFC; by failing to provide any RFC limitations for
Plaintiff's pain, depression, or hypersomnolence; and by
failing to consider or discuss how the side effects from
Plaintiff's medications affected her ability to work.
However, after careful review and consideration of the
evidence and arguments presented, the undersigned finds for
the reasons set forth hereinbelow that there is substantial
evidence to support the decision of the Commissioner, and
that the decision should therefore be affirmed.
Laws, 368 F.2d 640');">368 F.2d 640');">368 F.2d 640');">368 F.2d 640 [Substantial evidence is
“evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as
sufficient to support a particular conclusion”].
initially argues that the ALJ erred by improperly evaluating
the opinion of her treating neurosurgeon, Dr. McLoughlin. The
opinion of a treating physician is ordinarily entitled to
great weight; see Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585,
589-590 (4th Cir. 1996) [Noting importance of treating
physician opinion]; is entitled to deference, and must be
weighed using all of the factors provided for in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527, 416.927. See SSR
96-2p. Under these regulations, a treating
source's opinion on the nature and severity of an
impairment is entitled to “controlling weight”
where it is supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with
the other substantial evidence in the case record. Further,
the ALJ is required to provide an explanation in the decision
for what weight is given a treating source's opinion and,
if rejected, why it was rejected. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(c), 416.927(c). After careful review of
the decision and the applicable medical records pursuant to
these standards, the undersigned can find no reversible error
in the ALJ's treatment of the medical records and
opinions from Dr. McLoughlin.
was initially seen by Dr. McLoughlin on August 26, 2014 for
complaints of low back pain. Dr. McLoughlin noted that
Plaintiff had previously had an L4-5 laminotomy performed on
her back in 2003, which had initially helped her pain.
However, she was at that time experiencing
“severe” pain that was interfering with her
quality of life. Dr. McLoughlin's records indicate that
he reviewed an MRI with her, and concluded that she had
marked degenerative disc disease at ¶ 4-5 with Modic
changes and disc space collapse. He believed that Plaintiff
was a “surgical candidate”. (R.p. 316). Dr.
McLoughlin thereafter performed surgery on the Plaintiff on
October 6, 2014. (R.pp. 318-320). Following this surgery, Dr.
McLoughlin completed a Short Term Disability Medical Update
form for the insurance company on November 23, 2014, in which
he noted that Plaintiff was currently unable to work, but
that she had a projected return to work date of approximately
January 6, 2015. (R.p. 470). When Plaintiff returned to Dr.
McLoughlin for her follow-up on December 11, 2014, he found
that Plaintiff was “continuing to do well for a lumbar
fusion. She is not requiring any pain medications and her
x-rays look fine. We're going to discontinue her lumbar
brace. I will see ...