Egolf v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration
ORDER RULING ON REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS adopting 23 Report and Recommendations affirming the Commissioner's final decision. Signed by Honorable Timothy M Cain on 3/21/12. (alew, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Deborah Kay Egolf,
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of the Social
CA No. 6:10-2430 -TMC
The plaintiff, Deborah K. Egolf (Egolf), brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(Commissioner) denying her claim for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under
the Social Security Act (SSA). (Dkt. No. 1.) This matter is before the court for review of the
Report and Recommendation (Report) of the United States magistrate judge made in accordance
with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rules 73.02 and 83.VII.02 of the District of South
Carolina. (Dkt. No. 20.)1 The magistrate judge recommends affirming the decision of the
Commissioner. The court adopts the recommendation contained in the Report and affirms the
decision of the Commissioner.
Egolf filed an application for SSI on August 8, 2007, alleging that she became disabled as
The magistrate judge's recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the
responsibility for making a final determination remains with the United States District 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. The court may
accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation made by the magistrate judge
or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
of April 1, 2004.2 Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. An
administrative law judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing on July 17, 2009. On August 11, 2009, the
ALJ issued a decision denying Egolf's claim.3 Egolf requested a review of the ALJ's decision,
which was denied by the Appeals Council, thereby making the ALJ's determination the final
decision of the Commissioner.
Egolf then filed this action on September 17, 2010. The magistrate judge filed the Report
on November 29, 2011, which recommended affirming the Commissioner. (Dkt. No. 23.) In the
Report, the magistrate judge sets forth the relevant facts and legal standards which are
incorporated here by reference. Egolf timely filed objections to the Report on December 16,
2011. (Dkt. No. 24.) This matter is now ripe for review.
The role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme established by the SSA is a
limited one. Section 405(g) of the Act provides, "the findings of the Commissioner of Social
Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . . " 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). "Substantial evidence has been defined . . . 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 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 is supported by substantial evidence. Blalock v.
Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). In its review, the court may not "undertake to re
Egolf later amended her alleged onset date to March 20, 2006.
The ALJ found that Egolf had the following severe impairments: rheumatoid arthritis,
osteoarthritis, disorders of the cervical spine, fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder.
weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that
of the [Commissioner]." Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). However, "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 agency." 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 this
conclusion is rational." Vitek, 438 F. 2d at 1157–58.
The magistrate judge filed the Report on November 29, 2011. (Dkt. No. 23.) In the
Report, the magistrate judge recommended affirming the decision of the Commissioner. Egolf
timely filed objections to the Report on December 16, 2011. (Dkt. No. 24.) Egolf protests the
Report with one specific objection: that the magistrate judge mischaracterized her allegations
that the ALJ erred by "cherry-picking" certain evidence as an argument about the credibility of
her complaints.4 For the reasons set forth below, the court does not find this objection persuasive.
The Report contains a section titled, "Subjective Complaints," in which the magistrate
judge thoroughly discusses allegations made by Egolf and contrasts them with objective medical
evidence in the record. In her objections, Egolf argues that this section of the Report does not
correspond with the relevant portion of her brief and mischaracterizes this section of her brief,
In her objections, Egolf briefly re-lists her reasons from her brief for reversing the ALJ.
However, this list does not contain any arguments and does not correspond to any specific
portions of the Report. Furthermore, Egolf does not cite any authority in this section. The court
does not construe these statements as specific objections to any portions of the Report. As stated
above, the court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report
to which specific objection is made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Accordingly, the court adopts those
portions of the Report.
which is titled, "The Administrative Law Judge Erred by Considering Only Portions of the
Claimant Supplied Evidence and Hearing Testimony Without Giving a Reason for his not
Considering All Aspects of Same." The court is persuaded that this objection is essentially an
argument over semantics. While the title of the section in the Report could have been more
narrowly tailored to respond to the title in the claimant's brief, the substantive portion of that
section is responsive to the arguments contained in the brief. In reading the arguments contained
in the claimant's brief, it is apparent that the claimant is making a credibility argument. The
relevant section in the claimant's brief consists entirely of quotes from the record that allegedly
contradict evidence cited in the ALJ's decision and the Report. However, as the ALJ and the
magistrate judge thoroughly explain, the objective evidence contained in the record, including
the most of the remarks in treatment notes, contradict the claimant's subjective complaints,
including those remarks cited in the claimant's brief. (Dkt. No. 23 at 6–13, 19–22.) It is the job of
the ALJ, not this court, to determine which complaints by the plaintiff are credible. See Craig v.
Apfel, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (ALJ reviewing the case bears the responsibility of
making findings of fact and resolving evidentiary conflicts); id. at 595 (recognizing that a
claimant's subjective statements need not be accepted to the extent that they are inconsistent with
the available evidence); see also White v. Massanari, 271 F.3d 1256, 1261 (10th Cir. 2001)
(stating that "a formalistic factor-by-factor recitation of the evidence" is unnecessary as long as
the ALJ "sets forth the specific evidence [he] relies on in evaluating the claimant's credibility");
reasons for the finding on credibility, supported by the evidence in the case record"). The
claimant is essentially asking the court to read the evidence differently—which is not the role of
this court. See Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (stating that the reviewing
court should not "undertake to reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or
substitute [its] judgment for that of" the agency) (citation omitted).
Accordingly, the court holds that the decision of the ALJ is supported by substantial
evidence and adopts the Report.
After carefully reviewing the record, the court finds that the ALJ, in reviewing the
medical history and subjective testimony, conducted a thorough and detailed review of Egolf's
impairments, arguments, and functional capacity. The court finds that substantial evidence
supports the Commissioner's decision that Egolf was not disabled as defined by the SSA. Blalock
v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972) (stating that the court must uphold the
Commissioner's decision as long as it is supported by substantial evidence.); see also Shively v.
Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cir. 1984) (defining substantial evidence as "evidence which a
reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion"). Accordingly, the
court adopts the recommendation of the magistrate judge. For the reasons set forth above, the
Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/Timothy M. Cain
Timothy M. Cain
United States District Judge
Greenville, South Carolina
March 21, 2012
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