Young v. Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
ORDER RULING ON REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION declining to adopt 21 Report and Recommendation, reversing the decision of the Commissioner pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and remanding the case to the Commissioner for further administrative action. Signed by Honorable R. Bryan Harwell on 03/20/2017. (bshr, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Allison B. Young,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration,
Civil Action No.: 5:15-cv-4153-RBH
Plaintiff Allison B. Young (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”)
denying Plaintiff’s claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). The matter is before the Court for
review of the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West, made
in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) for the District of South
Carolina. The Magistrate Judge recommends the Court affirm the Commissioner’s decision. [ECF
Factual Findings and Procedural History
The facts, including the medical timeline and evidence contained within the record, are
adequately set forth by the Magistrate Judge in the Report and Recommendation. [ECF #21, pp. 1-6].
Briefly stated, Plaintiff was 48 years old as of the alleged onset date of December 31, 2006 and 52 years
old as of February 21, 2011, the amended alleged onset date. [ECF #10-2, p. 34]. Plaintiff previously
worked as a customer sales representative and worked as a cashier for Wal-Mart from June 2007 until
March 7, 2008. [ECF #10-2, p. 35]. Plaintiff testified that she left her job at Wal-Mart because the job
took a toll on her body. [ECF #10-2, p. 40]. In her application, she indicates she stopped working at
this job because of her conditions, and because she was having problems at her work site. [ECF #10-6,
p. 31]. Plaintiff reported her conditions as follows: (1) degenerative disc disease; (2) arthritis in her
knee; (3) depression b/p; (4) hip pain; (5) right foot pain; and (6) high blood pressure. [ECF #10-6, p.
31]. At the hearing, Plaintiff testified about an inability to use her hands due to arthritis. Plaintiff’s
radiological findings in the medical records generally show mild or minimal abnormalities. [ECF #10-2,
With respect to her mental health records, the records reveal that Plaintiff denied having
sustained depression or significant anxiety. [ECF # 10-2, p. 17]. Upon being prescribed medication,
Plaintiff’s mental condition greatly improved. [ECF #10-2, p. 17]. The medical records further reveal
her affective disorder was mild in nature. [ECF #10-2, p. 17]. Plaintiff testified that she used a cane,
but that it was not prescribed to her by a medical professional. [ECF #10-2, p. 16]. Medical records also
indicate that Plaintiff was not always compliant with her medical treatment. [ECF #10-2, p. 19].
Plaintiff initially applied for disability benefits alleging a disability onset date of February 8,
2008. She later amended her application to allege a disability onset date of December 31, 2006. Her
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”). Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ for a hearing on February
3, 2014, and at the hearing, Plaintiff again amended her alleged onset date to February 21, 2011. On
April 18, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision to Plaintiff. The ALJ’s findings were as
(1) The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act on June 30, 2013.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
February 21, 2011, the amended alleged onset date. (20 C.F.R.
404.1571 et seq. and 416.971 et seq.).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments: mild
degenerative changes of the lumbar spine, minimal degenerative
changes of the right knee, and affective disorder (20 C.F.R.
404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
(4) The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the
listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20
C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526. 416.920(d), 416.925 and
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned
finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(c) and 416. 967(c)
with the following additional limitations: the claimant can
occasionally push and/or pull with the right leg. She can occasionally
climb ramps/stairs but cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She
cannot kneel or crawl. She should avoid all exposure to vibration,
heights, and dangerous machinery. She is limited to simple, routine
work. She should avoid large crowds in the workplace and waiting
on the public as customers.
(6) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20
C.F.R. 404.1565 and 416.965).
(7) The claimant was born on November 26, 1958, and was 52 years
old, which is defined as closely approaching advanced age, on the
amended alleged disability onset date. The claimant is presently 55
years old and subsequently changed age category to advanced age (20
C.F.R. 404.1563 and 416.963).
(8) The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate
in English (20 C.F.R. 404.1564 and 416.964).
(9) Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of
disability because using the Medical Vocational Rules as a framework
supports a finding that claimant is “not disabled” whether or not the
claimant has transferable job skills (20 C.F.R. 404.1564 and
416.964). (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
(10) Considering the claimant’s age, education, work experience,
and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can
perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
(11) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, from February 21, 2011, through the date of
this decision (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).
[ECF #10-2, pp. 15-23].
Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals Council, but on August 20, 2015, the Appeals Council
denied her request for review, thereby making the ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s final
administrative decision for purposes of judicial review. On October 7, 2015, Plaintiff filed her
Complaint in this Court. [ECF #1]. Both Plaintiff and Defendant filed briefs [ECF #15; ECF #17], and
the Magistrate Judge issued his Report and Recommendation on January 25, 2017, recommending that
the Commissioner’s decision be affirmed. [ECF #21, p. 25].
The Magistrate Judge recommends
affirming the Commissioner’s decision because the record contains substantial evidence to support the
decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the
relevant time period. [ECF #20, pp. 24-25]. Plaintiff filed objections on February 8, 2017. [ECF #23].
Defendant replied to these objections February 15, 2017. [ECF # 26].
Standard of Review
I. Judicial Review of the Commissioner’s Findings
The federal judiciary has a limited role in the administrative scheme established by the Act,
which provides the Commissioner’s findings “shall be conclusive” if they are “supported by substantial
evidence.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence has been defined innumerable times as more than
a scintilla, but less than preponderance.” Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964).
Substantial evidence “means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
This statutorily mandated 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, 1157-58
(4th Cir. 1971); Hicks v. Gardner, 393 F.2d 299, 302 (4th Cir. 1968). The Court must uphold the
Commissioner’s factual findings “if they are supported by substantial evidence and were reached
through application of the correct legal standard.” Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir.
2012); see also Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972) (stating that even if the Court
disagrees with the Commissioner’s decision, the Court must uphold the decision if substantial evidence
supports it). This standard of review does not require, however, mechanical acceptance of the
Commissioner’s findings. Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278, 279 (4th Cir. 1969). The Court “must not
abdicate [its] responsibility to give careful scrutiny to the whole record to assure that there is a sound
foundation for the [Commissioner]’s findings, and that [her] conclusion is rational.” Vitek, 438 F.2d
II. The Court’s Review of the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation
The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the Court. The Magistrate Judge’s
recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination
remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court must conduct a
de novo review of those portions of the Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) to which specific
objections are made, and it 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 Court must engage in a de novo review of every portion of the Magistrate Judge’s report
to which objections have been filed. Id. However, the Court need not conduct a de novo review when
a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the [C]ourt to a specific error
in the [M]agistrate [Judge]’s proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d
44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of specific objections to the R & R, the Court reviews only for
clear error, Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005), and the Court
need not give any explanation for adopting the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation. Camby v. Davis,
718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983).
Here, after reviewing the record, including the briefs filed by the parties, the Magistrate Judge
recommends affirming the decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff raises the following objections to
the recommendation by the R&R: (1) substantial evidence does not support the ALJ’s assessment of
a non-examining state agency medical consultant’s opinion; (2) the ALJ did not adequately explain her
RFC findings; and (3) the ALJ did not properly consider Plaintiff’s credibility. These are the same
issues that were previously raised by the Plaintiff in her initial brief to this Court. This Court will
analyze these objections in turn.
An ALJ evaluates every medical opinion received. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c) and 416.927(c).
Pursuant to SSR 96-6p, findings of fact made by state-agency medical and psychological consultants
regarding the nature and severity of a clamant’s impairments must be treated as expert opinion evidence
of non-examining sources by the ALJ. SSR 96-6p, 1996 WL 374180, at *1. While the ALJ is not bound
by the findings made by state-agency medical or psychological consultants, the ALJ may not simply
ignore the opinions, but rather must evaluate them pursuant to the above-referenced regulations. In so
doing, the regulations provide the following factors to consider in evaluating medical opinion evidence,
which are: (1) whether the physician examined the claimant; (2) the treatment relationship between
physician and claimant; (3) the supportability of the physician’s opinion; (4) the consistency of the
opinion with the record; (5) whether the physician is a specialist, and (6) other factors that may support
or contradict the opinion. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c) and 416.927(c). An ALJ’s determination regarding
the weight to assign a medical opinion generally will not be disturbed absent some indication that the
ALJ has “dredged up ‘specious inconsistencies.’” Koonce v. Apfel, 166 F.3d 1209 (4th Cir.
1999)(unpublished opinion)(citing Scivally v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1070, 1076-77 (7th Cir. 1992)).
Dr. Crumlin, the state agency consultant, opined that Plaintiff could perform light work. [ECF
#10-3, pp. 11-16]. The ALJ considered the opinion, gave the opinion “some weight,” but ultimately
determined that based upon the evidence in its entirety, including the hearing testimony, Plaintiff was
capable of performing medium work. [ECF #10-2, p. 21]. The Magistrate Judge explained that the main
difference between the ALJ’s determined RFC and the opinion of Dr. Crumlin was the amount of
weight Plaintiff can carry in performing work-related functions. [ECF #21, p. 14]. While an important
distinction due to Plaintiff’s age, the Magistrate Judge ultimately determined that the ALJ sufficiently
explained the basis for his analysis of Dr. Crumlin’s opinion. In her objections, Plaintiff argues that the
ALJ’s alleged determination that his decision is supported by the state agency physician’s opinion is
not supported by the evidence, and further, that the ALJ did not comply with SSR 83-12.
Dr. Crumlin, the state agency consultant, appears to be the only medical professional who
provides an opinion regarding the lifting and carrying restrictions and RFC that Plaintiff can perform.
Specifically, Dr. Crumlin’s RFC assessment limited Plaintiff to occasional lifting and carrying of twenty
pounds and frequent lifting and carrying of ten pounds. This criteria would be defined as “light work.”
25 C.F.R. § 404.1567 (b). As acknowledged by the ALJ at the hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-five years old
on the date of the hearing. According to the Medical Vocational Guidelines (the “Grids”), an individual
who is Plaintiff’s age of 55 and limited to “light work” would be found disabled. Individuals who can
perform “medium work” can engage in activities involving lifting no more than fifty pounds at a time
with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. 25 C.F.R. § 404.1567 (c). This
Court has considered all evidence in the record, along with Plaintiff’s age, and the fact that it appears
that Dr. Crumlin’s RFC assessment is the only medical assessment of record regarding restrictions of
lifting and carrying. This Court is unclear based on the ALJ’s decision why he determined that, based
on the assessment of the state agency consultant, the Plaintiff was still able to perform the lift-and-carry
function at the “medium work” level. Accordingly, this Court is not satisfied that substantial evidence
exists in the record to support the ALJ’s determination that Plaintiff has the ability to perform “medium
work,” rather than “light work” or that his decision is supported by the state agency medical consultant.
The Grids call for a finding of disability based on age 55 with an RFC of “light work.” However, prior
to age 55 with an RFC of “light work,” the Grids do not require a finding of disability. Because it is
unclear what effect an RFC of “light work” may have on the analysis of the further findings of the ALJ
in his sequential analysis, remand is appropriate.
The Court has thoroughly reviewed the entire record as a whole, including the administrative
transcript, the briefs, the Magistrate Judge’s R & R, Plaintiff’s objections to the R & R, Defendant’s
response to Plaintiff’s objections, and the applicable law. For the foregoing reasons, the Court
respectfully rejects the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. The action is remanded to the
Commissioner to conduct an analysis consistent with this Order.
The Commissioner’s decision is
reversed pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and the case is remanded to the Commissioner
for further administrative action.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Florence, South Carolina
March 20, 2017
s/ R. Bryan Harwell
R. Bryan Harwell
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?