Harris v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration
ORDER adopting 18 Report and Recommendation. It is the judgment of the Court this matter is REVERSED AND REMANDED for further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Signed by Honorable Mary Geiger Lewis on 12/22/2016.(abuc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
CRYSTAL D. HARRIS,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 6:15-05052-MGL
ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
AND REVERSING AND REMANDING THE MATTER FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS
This is a Social Security appeal in which Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision
of Defendant denying her claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security
Income (SSI). The parties are represented by excellent counsel. The matter is before the Court for
review of the Report and Recommendation (Report) of the United States Magistrate Judge
suggesting to the Court this matter be reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings
under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Report was made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. §
636 and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina.
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 Court need not conduct a de
novo review, however, “when a party makes general and conclusory objections that do not direct
the court to a specific error in the [Magistrate Judge’s] proposed findings and recommendations.”
Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).
The Magistrate Judge filed the Report on December 7, 2016, and Defendant filed her
objection on December 21, 2016. The Court has carefully reviewed Defendant’s objection, but
holds it to be without merit. Therefore, it will enter judgment accordingly.
Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI on September 21, 2011, and December 29,
2011, respectively, asserting her disability commenced on November 1, 2009. Her applications were
denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ), which the ALJ conducted on April 29, 2014. The ALJ also held a supplemental
hearing on August 25, 2014. Then, on September 25, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision holding
Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. Subsequently, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s
request for review of the ALJ’s decision; accordingly, the ALJ’s decision became Defendant’s final
decision for purposes of judicial review. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed suit in this Court, seeking judicial
review of Defendant’s final decision denying her claims.
The Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process
for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The five steps
are: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaging in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the
claimant has a medically determinable severe impairment(s); (3) whether such impairment(s) meets
or equals an impairment set forth in the Listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevents the
claimant from returning to his past relevant work; and, if so, (5) whether the claimant is able to
perform other work as it exists in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I)-(v),
It is Plaintiff’s duty to both produce evidence and prove she is disabled under the Act. See
Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). And, it is the duty of the ALJ, not this Court,
to make findings of fact and to resolve conflicts in the evidence. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453,
1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Under the substantial evidence standard, however, we must view the entire
record as a whole. See Steurer v. Bowen, 815 F.2d, 1249, 1250 (8th Cir. 1987). “Additionally, the
substantial evidence standard presupposes a zone of choice within which the decisionmakers can
go either way, without interference by the courts. An administrative decision is not subject to
reversal merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision.” Clarke
v. Bowen, 843 F.2d 271, 272-73 (8th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks
omitted) (alteration omitted).
In Defendant’s objection, she argues the Magistrate Judge erred in rejecting Defendant’s
argument remand is unwarranted because Dr. Ronald Thompson’s evaluation failed to support
Plaintiff’s claim she lacked the ability to concentrate sufficiently to perform the jobs identified by
the vocational expert. According to Defendant, the Magistrate Judge neglected to apply the
deferential standard of review contained in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to the ALJ’s decision, and thus failed
to articulate a legally sufficient reason to remand this case for reconsideration of Dr. Thompson’s
opinion. The Court is unpersuaded.
The ALJ “must consider all the evidence and explain on the record the reasons for his
findings, including the reason for rejecting relevant evidence in support of the claim.” King v.
Califano, 615 F.2d 1018, 1020 (4th Cir. 1980). “Even if legitimate reasons exist for rejecting or
discounting certain evidence, [the ALJ] cannot do so for no reason or for the wrong reason.” Id.
Further, the Court “cannot determine if findings are unsupported by substantial evidence unless [the
ALJ] explicitly indicates the weight given to all of the relevant evidence.” Gordon v. Schweiker,
725 F.2d 231, 235 (4th Cir. 1984). “Unless [the ALJ] has analyzed all the evidence and has
sufficiently explained the weight he has given to obviously probative exhibits, to say that his
decision is supported by substantial evidence approaches an abdication of the [C]ourt’s duty to
scrutinize the record as a whole to determine whether the conclusions reached are rational.” Arnold
v. Sec’y of Health, Educ. & Welfare, 567 F.2d 258, 259 (4th Cir. 1977) (citation omitted) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Nevertheless, the duty of explanation is satisfied “[i]f a reviewing court
can discern what the ALJ did and why he did it.” Piney Mountain Coal Co. v. Mays, 176 F.3d 753,
762 n.10 (4th Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Having reviewed the record under the standard set forth above, the Court is unable to say it
can discern what the ALJ did and why he did it. As the Magistrate Judge notes, the ALJ failed to
state the weight he gave to Dr. Thompson’s opinion regarding Plaintiff’s mental impairments. This
omission is particularly troubling in light of the ALJ’s decision to give Dr. Craig Horn’s opinion
In choosing to give Dr. Horn’s opinion limited weight, the ALJ stated his reliance on
Plaintiff’s “mental longitudinal history” and specifically cited Dr. Thompson’s consultative
examination, stating Dr. Thompson “noted only bereavement adjustment disorder and that opinion
was consistent with [Plaintiff’s] frame of mind at that time.” Tr. 27-28. The ALJ’s statement is in
error, however, as Dr. Thompson diagnosed both bereavement and moderate adjustment disorder
with major depressive features. Tr. 403. This misreading of Dr. Thompson’s findings, coupled with
the ALJ’s failure to state the weight given to Dr. Thompson’s opinion, warrants remand. Thus, the
Court will overrule Defendant’s objection.
After a thorough review of the Report and the record in this case under the standard set forth
above, the Court overrules Defendant’s objection, adopts the Report, and incorporates it herein.
Therefore, it is the judgment of the Court this matter is REVERSED AND REMANDED for
further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Signed this 22nd day of December, 2016, in Columbia, South Carolina.
s/ Mary Geiger Lewis
MARY GEIGER LEWIS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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