McCoy v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration
ORDER RULING ON REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS for 15 Report and Recommendations. Defendant's decision is affirmed. Signed by Honorable Henry F Floyd on 8/25/2011. (aste)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
ROCK HILL DIVISION
LORRAINE EDMOND MCCOY,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
§ CIVIL ACTION NO. 0:10-00765-HFF-PJG
This case was filed as a social security disability benefits action. Plaintiff is represented by
counsel. The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (Report) of
the United States Magistrate Judge suggesting that Defendant’s decision be affirmed. The Report
was made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South
The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has
no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court.
Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (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 with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
The Magistrate Judge filed the Report on March 16, 2011, and Plaintiff filed her objections
to the Report on April 4, 2011.
Plaintiff first objects to the Magistrate Judge’s suggestion that the Administrative Law
Judge’s (ALJ) decision should be affirmed as supported by substantial evidence despite her
erroneous reference to Christine Hamolia,* a registered nurse, as a “licensed social worker.”
According to Plaintiff, because the ALJ thought Hamolia was a social worker rather than a nurse,
she failed to apply the correct legal standard in considering her opinion testimony. Pl.’s Objs. 2-3,
ECF No. 16. Plaintiff notes that Social Security Ruling 06-03p treats nurses as medical sources who
are not acceptable medical sources and provides guidelines for how to weigh their opinions. Id. at
1-2. Although Plaintiff acknowledges that Social Security Ruling 06-03p includes licensed clinical
social workers, like nurses, as medical sources who are not acceptable medical sources, she insists
that the ALJ described Hamolia as only a “social worker,” which does not constitute a medical
source who is not an acceptable medical source. Id. at 2-3.
This Court’s review of an ALJ’s findings is limited to ensuring that substantial evidence
exists to support them and the ALJ applied the proper legal standard to reach them. Hines v.
Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 561 (4th Cir. 2006) (citing Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir.
2001)). The ALJ gave Hamolia’s opinion “no more weight than lay opinion.” R. at 17. Everyone
agrees that the ALJ erred in classifying Hamolia as a “licensed social worker with [the Medical
University of South Carolina]” rather than as a nurse. Id. at 16. Despite this error, however, the
ALJ’s decision to ascribe little or no weight to her opinion is supported by substantial evidence.
The Magistrate Judge noted inconsistencies in the record and briefs as to the spelling of
Christine Hamolia’s last name. Report 5 n.1, ECF No. 15. The Court will adopt the Magistrate
Judge’s decision to use the spelling from Plaintiff’s briefs—Hamolia.
Specifically, she noted that the other record evidence did not support Hamolia’s opinion. Id. at 17.
She also recognized that Hamolia’s opinion was inconsistent with Plaintiff’s “current global
assessment of functioning,” which “denote[d] only moderate symptoms or moderate difficulty in
social, occupational, or school functioning.” Id. The Court believes that this is adequate evidence
for a reasonable mind to decline to give Hamolia’s opinion any weight, and therefore, substantial
evidence supports the ALJ’s treatment of Hamolia’s opinion. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971) (holding that substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S.
197, 229 (1938)) (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Moreover, the Court disagrees with Plaintiff that the ALJ’s mischaracterization of Hamolia
as a licensed social worker rather than a nurse caused her to apply an incorrect legal standard.
Social Security Ruling 06-03p distinguishes between opinions provided by medical sources who are
not acceptable medical sources, like nurses and licensed clinical social workers, and nonmedical
sources, like regular social workers. SSR 06-03p, 2006 WL 2329939, at *2, *5 (Aug. 9, 2006). In
different parts of the ruling, it provides factors and considerations for the ALJ to consider in
evaluating both types of opinions. Id. at *4-5. For the most part, however, the considerations and
factors overlap. See id. Importantly, in both contexts, the ALJ must consider the opinion’s support
and whether it is consistent with other record evidence. Id. As noted, that is exactly what the ALJ
hinged her decision on in this case. Thus, the Court is of the opinion that, despite the error, the ALJ
applied the correct legal standard.
Plaintiff also maintains that the ALJ erred in failing to consider findings provided by Dr.
Cashton Spivey, particularly Dr. Spivey’s finding in December 2006 that Plaintiff suffered from a
probable cognitive mental disorder. Pl.’s Objs. 3. She asserts that “[i]n the decision, the ALJ fails
to reference or discuss Dr. Spivey’s findings.” Id. Plaintiff did not raise this issue to the Magistrate
Judge. Regardless, it is plainly without merit.
The ALJ’s decision is replete with references to Dr. Spivey’s findings. At step two, the ALJ
observed that “the claimant has a severe mental impairment as evidenced by her diagnosis of and
treatment for ‘significant depression,’ ” and then she specifically cited Dr. Spivey’s findings,
including those related to “attention/concentration problems.” R. at 12. In assessing Plaintiff’s
residual functional capacity (RFC) at step four, the ALJ referenced Dr. Spivey’s December 2006
meeting with Plaintiff at least three times. Id. at 16, 18. The ALJ noted Dr. Spivey’s assignment
of a global assessment of functioning (GAF) of 40-50 and noted that this “normally represent[s]
serious mental symptoms.” Id. at 18. The ALJ proceeded to recognize improvements in Plaintiff’s
GAF score and the effective counseling and medication treatment Plaintiff had received since
December 2006. Id. Accordingly, the Court finds that, contrary to Plaintiff’ assertions, the ALJ not
only acknowledged Dr. Spivey’s findings, but also provided a thorough explanation of her treatment
Plaintiff finally objects to the Magistrate Judge’s suggestion that the ALJ considered the
combined effect of Plaintiff’s impairments at step four. After a review of the ALJ’s RFC
assessment, the Court is satisfied that she considered the combined effect of Plaintiff’s impairments.
Accordingly, this objection is also unmeritorious.
After a thorough review of the Report and the record in this case pursuant to the standard set
forth above, the Court overrules Plaintiff’s objections, adopts the Report to the extent it is consistent
with this Order, and incorporates it herein. Therefore, it is the judgment of this Court that
Defendant’s decision is AFFIRMED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Signed this 25th day of August, 2011, in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
s/ Henry F. Floyd
HENRY F. FLOYD
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?