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") 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 May 28, 2019, Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn D. Austin issued
a Report and Recommendation ("Report"),
recommending that the decision of the Commissioner be
affirmed. ECF No. 21. On June 11, 2019, Plaintiff filed
Objections to the Report, and the Commissioner filed a Reply
on June 24, 2019. ECF Nos. 23, 25. For the reasons stated
below, the Court adopts the Report and incorporates it herein
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. Bamhart, 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
November 2014, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI,
alleging a disability onset date of September 1, 2008.
Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge ('ALT), which was held on March
21, 2017. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's applications in a
decision issued May 15, 2017. 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 the
Appeals Council failed to weigh new and material evidence
that was submitted with Plaintiff's request for review.
In his request for review to the Appeals Council, Plaintiff
submitted medical imaging, treatment notes, and a
questionnaire. As the Report noted, "the Appeals Council
specifically found that the new evidence did not relate to
the period at issue and advised Plaintiff of his right to
file a new application or a civil action." ECF No. 21 at
18. Plaintiff acknowledges, as he must, that the evidence
submitted to the Appeals Council post-dated the ALJ's
decision; however, Plaintiff contends that this evidence
relates back to conditions that existed prior to the
review of the relevant law and the medical records at issue
in this case, the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge that
the post-ALJ decision evidence does not "identify any
... linkage to the relevant time period." Id.
at 20. "[A]t best, [the evidence] shows a worsening of
[Plaintiff's] condition after the ALJ's decision and
not the state of his condition, which was at a heightened
level of severity, at the time of the ALJ's
decision." Id. While medical records are not
automatically barred simply because they post-date the ALJ
decision, there must be "some inference of a
linkage" to the relevant period. Hooks v.
Colvin, No. 9:15-cv-02428-RBH, ECF No. 20 at 9 (Sept.
22, 2016). Here, no such linkage exists. Of course, this
evidence may form the basis of a new application for
benefits, based on a new disability onset date; however, it
does not warrant remand.
even if the MRI results were considered upon a remand to be
evidence of a chronic condition relating back to the relevant
time period, those results are not inconsistent with the
ALJ's decision in this case. Indeed, the contemporaneous
medical notes of Dr. Baird, a treating physician, are
consistent with the decision in light of Dr. Baird's
expectation that the Plaintiff would "continue to look
for work and insurance options." ECF No. 10-2 at 50.
Accordingly, the Court overrules Plaintiff's objection
and adopts the Report and incorporates it by reference
reasons set forth above, the Court ADOPTS
the Report and AFFIRMS the ...