United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division
Timothy M. Cain United States District Judge
Tammie Lane Mullinax (“Mullinax”), brought this
action pursuant to the Social Security Act
(“SSA”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking
judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying her
claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”).
(ECF No. 1). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)
and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C., this matter was
referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial handling. Before
this court is the magistrate judge’s Report and
Recommendation (“Report”), recommending that the
court affirm the Commissioner’s decision. (ECF No.
Mullinax has filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 27), and
the Commissioner has responded to those objections (ECF No.
29). Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for review.
January 3, 2014, Mullinax applied for DIB, alleging that she
has been unable to work since July 1, 2013. (ECF No. 10-2 at
12). Her claim was denied initially on August 12, 2014, and
upon reconsideration on December 10, 2014. Id. On
December 2, 2016, an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) conducted a hearing and received
testimony from Mullinax and Carroll Crawford, a vocational
expert. Id. On February 1, 2017, the ALJ denied
Mullinax’s claim for benefits. Id. at 27. The
Appeals Council subsequently denied Mullinax’s request
for review, making the ALJ’s decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. Id. at 2.
decision, the ALJ found that Mullinax suffered from the
following severe impairments: arthralgias; lumbar
degenerative disc disease (DDD); status post breast cancer,
mastectomies and chemo-radiation; obesity; affective
disorder; and anxiety disorder. (ECF No. 10-2 at 14). The ALJ
concluded that Mullinax did “not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1.” Id. at 15.
then assessed Mullinax’s residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and concluded she could perform
“light work as defined by as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1567(b), over the course of an 8-hour workday, in
2-hour increments with normal and acceptable work
breaks.” (ECF No. 10-2 at 18). The ALJ further noted
Mullinax “can never climb ladders ropes and
scaffolds” but “can occasionally climb ramps and
stairs, crouch and crawl . . . [and] occasionally stoop to
lift within the exertional level from the floor to the
waist.” Id. The ALJ also found that Mullinax can,
despite her impairments, “frequently stoop to lift
within the exertional level from waist height and above,
” “frequently balance and kneel, ” and
frequently perform bilateral overhead reaching within the
exertional level. Id. Finally, the ALJ stated that
Mullinax “has sufficient concentration, persistence and
pace to understand, remember and carry out simple, routine
tasks, in a low stress work environment, ” provided
such tasks involve no more than “simple work-related
decisions [and] occasional independent judgment
of these limitations, the ALJ found that Mullinax is unable
to perform her past relevant work as an administrative
assistant and laboratory assistant. Id. at 25.
Ultimately, the ALJ concluded that, based on Mullinax’s
age, education, work experience and RFC, there are light,
unskilled jobs “that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy that the claimant can perform, ”
such as garment folder, DOT No. 789.687-066. Id. at
25-26. Thus, the ALJ ruled that Mullinax was not
disabled within the meaning of the SSA between July 1, 2013,
and February 1, 2017, the date of the ALJ’s decision.
Id. at 26.
January 29, 2018, Mullinax filed this action seeking judicial
review of the Commissioner’s decision. (ECF No. 1). On
April 24, 2019, the magistrate judge issued the Report
recommending that the court affirm the Commissioner’s
decision. (ECF No. 25). Mullinax filed objections to the
Report, arguing: (1) the magistrate judge erroneously
concluded that the ALJ properly evaluated the opinion of Dr.
Robirds, her treating physician and (2) the magistrate judge
erroneously concluded that the ALJ properly considered
Mullinax’s subjective complaints regarding her symptoms
and impairments. (ECF No. 27). In response, the Commissioner
contended that Mullinax’s objections merely raised
arguments already considered and rejected by the magistrate
judge. (ECF No. 29).
Standard of Review
federal judiciary has a limited role in the administrative
scheme established by the SSA. Section 405(g) of the Act
provides, “[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social
Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive . . ..” 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). “Substantial evidence has been defined . . . as
more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.”
Thomas v. Celebrezze, 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). Thus, in its
review, the court may not “undertake to re-weigh
conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or
substitute [its] judgment for that of the
[Commissioner].” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585,
589 (4th Cir. 1996).
“[f]rom this it does not follow . . . 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
agency.” Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278, 279
(4th Cir. 1969). Rather, “the 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.
Evaluation of Dr. Robirds’ Opinion
objects to the magistrate judge’s conclusion that the
ALJ properly evaluated the opinion of Dr. Robirds, her
treating physician. (ECF No. 27 at 1-4). Dr. Robirds signed a
medical source statement (MSS) form dated November 15, 2016,
reflecting the opinion that Mullinax could only occasionally
lift and carry less than ten (10) pounds, and lift and carry
on a frequent basis less than ten (10) pounds. (ECF No. 10-30
at 32). Dr. Robirds was also of the opinion that Mullinax
could stand/walk (with normal breaks) less than two (2) hours
during an 8-hour day (in ten (10) minute increments); and sit
(with normal breaks) about two (2) hours in an 8-hour day (in
thirty (30) minute increments). Id. at 52-53. Dr.
Robirds further indicated that Mullinax would have to get up
and walk around every ten (10) minutes and that she would
need to lie down at unpredictable intervals during the work
shift. Id. at 53. In support of his opinion
regarding these limitations, Dr. Robirds stated that Mullinax
“has lumbar disc and cervical disc disease.”
Id. Dr. Robirds checked boxes indicating that these
impairments “affect” reaching, handling,
fingering, feeling/pushing/pulling; that her pain medications
could cause balance problems, ...