Cook v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration
ORDER RULING ON REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION adopting 32 Report and Recommendation,, Signed by Honorable Donald C Coggins, Jr on 9/24/19. (jsmi, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Karen Michele Cook,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner )
of Social Security Administration,
C/A No. 6:18-cv-1551-DCC
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her
claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB").
In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 (D.S.C.), this matter
was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for pre-trial handling. On June 13, 2019,
Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McDonald issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report”),
recommending that the decision of the Commissioner be reversed and remanded. ECF
No. 32. On June 27, 2019, the Commissioner filed objections to the Report. ECF No.
34. For the reasons stated below, the Court adopts the Report and incorporates it herein
The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court.
recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final
determination remains with this Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270–71. The
Court is charged with making a de novo determination of only those portions of the Report
that have been specifically objected to, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify the
Report, in whole or in part. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
The role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme established by the
Social Security Act (“the Act”) is a limited one. Section 205(g) of the Act provides, “[t]he
findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive . . . .”
42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
“Substantial evidence has been defined
innumerable times as more than a scintilla, but less than preponderance.” Thomas v.
Celebreeze, 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 was supported by substantial evidence and
reached through the application of the correct legal standard. Johnson v. Barnhart, 434
F.3d 650 (4th Cir. 2005). “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
action.” 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 his conclusion is
rational.” Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157–58.
Plaintiff applied for SSI and DIB on June 5, 2014, alleging that she has been
disabled since January 1, 2014.
Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on March 24, 2017. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim in a
decision issued July 5, 2017. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review,
making the determination of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner.
The Magistrate Judge provides a thorough recitation of the facts of this case
and the applicable legal standards in his Report, which the Court incorporates by
reference. The Magistrate Judge evaluated the merits of Plaintiff’s arguments and found
that the ALJ failed to adequately explain the decision to give mixed weight to the opinion
of Plaintiff's treating rheumatologist, Dr. Mader.
The Magistrate Judge recites the
pertinent portions of the ALJ's treatment of Dr. Mader's opinions in the Report; therefore,
the Court need not restate them here. See ECF No. 32 at 25–27. After reviewing the
ALJ's decision, the Magistrate Judge found "that the ALJ's rejection of Dr. Mader's
opinions was summary and conclusory in nature without indicating what evidence in the
record contradicted Dr. Mader's opinions."
Id. at 27.
The Commissioner objects,
contending substantial evidence supports the ALJ's evaluation of Dr. Mader's opinion.
After reviewing the ALJ's decision, the relevant law, and the arguments of counsel,
the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's analysis and conclusion. As the Magistrate
Judge correctly noted, the ALJ's opinion "includes no indication of the ALJ's recognition
or consideration of the factors associated with the Treating Physician Rule—beyond that
Dr. Mader is a rheumatologist who saw the plaintiff from December 2015 to September
2016 for fibromyalgia and ankylosing spondylosis." Id. The Commissioner's objection
misses the point, as the Report concludes that the ALJ committed legal error in evaluating
Dr. Mader's opinion. Because the ALJ did not evaluate the opinions of treating physicians
under the appropriate regulations and provide an explanation for the weight given to those
opinions, it is impossible for a reviewing court to determine whether substantial evidence
supports the ALJ's determination.
Put succinctly, the ALJ provides no adequate
explanation that is grounded in the record evidence and in compliance with the applicable
regulations for failing to afford these treating providers' opinions controlling weight. For
that reason, the Court adopts the Report and incorporates it by reference herein.
For the reasons set forth above, the Court adopts the Report, reverses the decision
of the Commissioner, and remands pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for
further evaluation of Plaintiff’s claim as indicated above.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ Donald C. Coggins, Jr.
United States District Judge
September 24, 2019
Spartanburg, South Carolina
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