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 Supplemental Security Income
("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits
("DIB"). 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 June 13, 2019, Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McDonald issued a
Report and Recommendation (“Report”),
recommending that the decision of the Commissioner be
reversed and remanded. ECF No. 32. On June 27, 2019, the
Commissioner filed objections to the Report. ECF No. 34. 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.
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
applied for SSI and DIB on June 5, 2014, alleging that she
has been disabled since January 1, 2014. Plaintiff's
claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration.
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on
March 24, 2017. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim in a
decision issued July 5, 2017. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for a review, making the
determination of the ALJ the final decision of the
Magistrate Judge provides a thorough recitation of the facts
of this case and the applicable legal standards in his
Report, which the Court incorporates by reference. The
Magistrate Judge evaluated the merits of Plaintiff’s
arguments and found that the ALJ failed to adequately explain
the decision to give mixed weight to the opinion of
Plaintiff's treating rheumatologist, Dr. Mader. The
Magistrate Judge recites the pertinent portions of the
ALJ's treatment of Dr. Mader's opinions in the
Report; therefore, the Court need not restate them here.
See ECF No. 32 at 25–27. After reviewing the
ALJ's decision, the Magistrate Judge found "that the
ALJ's rejection of Dr. Mader's opinions was summary
and conclusory in nature without indicating what evidence in
the record contradicted Dr. Mader's opinions."
Id. at 27. The Commissioner objects, contending
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's evaluation of Dr.
reviewing the ALJ's decision, the relevant law, and the
arguments of counsel, the Court adopts the Magistrate
Judge's analysis and conclusion. As the Magistrate Judge
correctly noted, the ALJ's opinion "includes no
indication of the ALJ's recognition or consideration of
the factors associated with the Treating Physician
Rule-beyond that Dr. Mader is a rheumatologist who saw the
plaintiff from December 2015 to September 2016 for
fibromyalgia and ankylosing spondylosis." Id.
The Commissioner's objection misses the point, as the
Report concludes that the ALJ committed legal error in
evaluating Dr. Mader's opinion. Because the ALJ did not
evaluate the opinions of treating physicians under the
appropriate regulations and provide an explanation for the
weight given to those opinions, it is impossible for a
reviewing court to determine whether substantial evidence
supports the ALJ's determination. Put succinctly, the ALJ
provides no adequate explanation that is grounded in the
record evidence and in compliance with the applicable
regulations for failing to afford these treating
providers' opinions controlling weight. For that reason,
the Court adopts the Report and incorporates it by reference
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