Rachels v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration
ORDER RULING ON REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION accepting 22 Report and Recommendation. Signed by Honorable J Michelle Childs on 3/9/18. (alew, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
Civil Action No.: 6:17-cv-00033-JMC
ORDER AND OPINION
This matter is before the court pursuant to Magistrate Kevin F. McDonald’s Report and
Recommendation (“Report”), recommending that the Commissioner’s decision be affirmed and
Plaintiff Linda Rachels’ claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income
benefits be denied. (ECF No. 22.) For the reasons set forth below, the court ACCEPTS the
Magistrate Judge’s Report (id.).
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The court concludes upon its own careful review of the record that the factual and
procedural summation in the Report (ECF No. 22) is accurate; therefore, the court adopts this
summary as its own. The court will only recite herein procedures pertinent to the court’s review
of the Report (id.). On January 24, 2018, the Magistrate Judge filed the Report (id.), and on
February 7, 2018, Plaintiff timely filed an objection (ECF No. 24). On February 15, 2018, the
Commissioner replied to Plaintiff’s Objection (ECF No. 26).
The court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) which gives the
court jurisdiction over a review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.
The Magistrate Judge’s Report is made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and
Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a) for the District of South Carolina. The Magistrate Judge makes
only a recommendation to this court, which has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to
make a final determination remains with this court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71
(1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report
to which specific objections are made. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(2)-(3).
The parties were advised of their rights to file objections to the Report. (ECF No. 22.) On
February 7, 2018, Plaintiff filed an objection. (ECF No. 24.) In his Objection, Plaintiff asserts
that: (1) the Magistrate Judge erred in his evaluation of the opinion of Plaintiff’s counselor, Ms.
Brooks-Bacote; (2) the Magistrate Judge erred in determining the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) accounted for all of Plaintiff’s mental functional limitations in the ALJ’s residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment; (3) the Magistrate Judge erred in his evaluation of
Plaintiff’s subjective complaints; and (4) the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that substantial
evidence supports the ALJ’s RFC assessment. (Id.)
As to Plaintiff’s first assertion, the court finds that the Magistrate Judge correctly found
that the ALJ’s evaluation of Ms. Brooks-Bacote’s opinion was supported by substantial evidence.
The court agrees with the Magistrate Judge that the ALJ appropriately determined that, under the
regulations that are controlling in this matter, Ms. Brooks-Bacote is not an acceptable medical
source. (ECF No. 22 at 17.) For claims like Plaintiff’s, filed before March 27, 2017, the
regulations define “acceptable medical sources” as licensed physicians, psychologists,
optometrists, podiatrists, and qualified speech-language pathologists.
20 C.F.R. §§
404.1502(a)(1)-(5), 416.902(a)(1)-(5). 1 Further, Ms. Brooks-Bacote’s name appears on only four
documents in the entire record; three of those are progress summaries for particular periods of time
and the other document is a plan of care. (ECF No. 22 at 18.) Moreover, as the ALJ acknowledged,
the language of Ms. Brooks-Bacote’s assessment suggests that she based her statements primarily
on the assertions made by Plaintiff and not clinical findings. (Id.) In addition, the Magistrate
Judge aptly relied on the ALJ’s finding that the severity of the limitations Ms. Brooks-Bacote
opined was not supported by the findings of other sources treating Plaintiff at Aiken Barnwell
Mental Health. (Id.)
Next, the court finds that the Magistrate Judge appropriately determined that the ALJ’s
assessment of Plaintiff’s subjective complaints was supported by substantial evidence. With
regard to the analysis of a claimant’s subjective complaints, the Fourth Circuit has stated as
[T]he determination of whether a person is disabled by pain or other symptoms is
a two-step process. First, there must be objective medical evidence showing the
existence of a medical impairment(s) which results from anatomical, physiological,
or psychological abnormalities and which could reasonably be expected to produce
the pain or other symptoms alleged . . . It is only after a claimant has met her
threshold obligation of showing by objective medical evidence a medical
impairment reasonably likely to cause the pain claimed, that the intensity and
persistence of the claimant’s pain, and the extent to which it affects her ability to
work, must be evaluated.
Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 594-95 (4th Cir. 1996).
However, a claimant’s symptoms, including pain, are considered to diminish his capacity
to work only to the extent that the alleged functional limitations are reasonably consistent with
objective medical evidence and other evidence. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404,1529(c)(4), 416.929(c)(4). The
Magistrate Judge properly concurred with the ALJ’s determination that, while Plaintiff’s medically
determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms, her
For applications filed after March 27, 2017, the definition of “acceptable medical source” has
been somewhat expanded. See 20 C.F.R §§ 404.1502(a)(6)-(8), 416.902(a)(6)-(8). However, the
new regulations do not include therapists and counselors as acceptable medical sources. See id.
statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms were “not
entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record.” (ECF No. 22 at
22.) Notably, although the ALJ found Plaintiff’s subjective complaints as to her mental limitations
were not supported by the record to the degree she asserted, he gave credence to many of her
mental complaints by providing significant limitations in the RFC assessment. (Id. at 24.)
Lastly, the court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s RFC assessment. The
ALJ found that Plaintiff had moderate restriction in her activities of daily living; moderate
difficulties in social functioning; moderate difficulties with regard to concentration, persistence,
or pace; and no episodes of decompensation. (Id. at 25.) The RFC assessment found that
Plaintiff’s mental impairments limited her to: (1) simple, routine, repetitive tasks, not performed
in a fast-paced production environment and involving only simple work-related instructions and
decisions; (2) relatively few workplace changes, with non-threatening direct supervision; and (3)
only occasional interaction with co-workers and no interaction with the general public. The court
is convinced that the ALJ did consider Plaintiff’s anger issues and interpersonal difficulties when
creating the RFC assessment. The ALJ’s RFC assessment is supported by Plaintiff’s generally
stable course of mental health treatment, treatment notes, GAF scores, 2 daily activities, and the
findings of the state agency psychological consultants, who found that Plaintiff had moderate
limitations in social functioning. (ECF No. 22 at 26.)
As long as substantial evidence—more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance,
of evidence—supports the ALJ’s decision, it should be affirmed. See, e.g., Mastro v. Apfel, 270
F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). The court determines that the ALJ’s decision regarding Ms. BrooksBacote’s opinion, Plaintiff’s subjective complaints, and the ALJ’s RFC assessment were supported
by substantial evidence.
A GAF score is a number between 1 and 100 that measures “the clinician’s judgment of the
individual’s overall level of functioning.” See Am. Psychiatric Ass’n, Diagnostic & Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders, 32-34 (Text Revision 4th ed. 2000).
Based on the foregoing reasons, the court ACCEPTS the Magistrate Judge’s Report and
Recommendation (ECF No. 22).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
United States District Judge
March 9, 2018
Columbia, South Carolina
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