United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division
OPINION AND ORDER
CAMERON MCGOWAN CURRIE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
this action, Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying
Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). Plaintiff appealed pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The matter is currently before the court for
review of the Report and Recommendation
(“Report”) of Magistrate Judge Shiva V. Hodges,
made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and
Local Rules 73.02(b)(2)(a) and 83.VII.02, et seq., D.S.C.
Report, filed December 3, 2019, recommends that the decision
of the Commissioner be reversed and remanded for
administrative action pursuant to sentence four of §
405(g). ECF No. 24. On December 16, 2019, the Commissioner
filed objections to the Report. ECF No. 26. On December 26,
2019, Plaintiff filed a response to the Commissioner's
objections. ECF No. 27. For the reasons stated below, the
court adopts the Report and reverses and remands the decision
of the Commissioner for further administrative action,
pursuant to sentence four of § 405(g).
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 the
court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (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 to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The court reviews only for clear
error in the absence of an objection. See Diamond v.
Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315
(4th Cir. 2005) (stating that “in the absence of a
timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a
de novo review, but instead must ‘only satisfy itself
that there is no clear error on the face of the record in
order to accept the recommendation.'”) (quoting
Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee's note).
role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme
established by the Social Security 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 a
preponderance.” Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d
541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964). This standard precludes a do 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 1157-58.
applied for DIB and SSI on October 27, 2014, alleging
disability as of June 5, 2014 due to impairments of spine,
including disc rupture and spinal stenosis, and obesity.
Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. On August 11, 2017, after a hearing,
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Alice Jordan
denied Plaintiff's claim. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision,
making the determination of the ALJ the final decision of the
Commissioner. Plaintiff filed this action September 5, 2018.
ECF No. 1.
Magistrate Judge recommends that the court reverse the
Commissioner's decision and remand for further
administrative proceedings because the ALJ failed to
sufficiently consider disability decisions from the South
Carolina Retirement System and Standard Insurance Company,
and thus failed to follow SSR 06-3p. ECF No. 24 at 32. The Report
also recommended the court find the ALJ did not appropriately
evaluate a treating physician's opinion (that of Dr.
Nelson) in accordance with 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)
Commissioner objects to the Report, arguing the Magistrate
Judge did not afford the ALJ the required deference under the
substantial evidence standard of review. ECF No. 26. The
Commissioner argues references to other disability benefits
were “meaningless and not worth the ALJ's time or
attention.” Id. at 2. Further, he argues
Plaintiff failed to provide evidence showing the underlying
basis for benefits from other sources, which is a
“critical element in this case.” Id. at
3. Finally, he argues remand is not necessary for further
consideration of treating physicians' reports because
their records support the RFC assessed by the ALJ.
Id. at 5.
supports the Report, arguing the court cannot determine if
the ALJ evaluated the other sources of disability benefits,
and therefore remand is proper. ECF No. 27. Further, she
argues the Commissioner failed to acknowledge several reasons
cited by the Magistrate Judge to support remand based on her
treating physicians' opinions. Id. at 2. She
urges the court to adopt the Report and remand for further
Other Sources of Disability Benefits
ALJ's decision makes no mention of Plaintiff receiving
disability benefits from any other sources, including the
South Carolina Retirement System or Standard Insurance
Company. Plaintiff testified that she receives disability
retirement benefits in response to a question by the ALJ;
however, no questions were asked regarding the underlying
basis for such benefits. Moreover, ...