Gosnell v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration
ORDER RULING ON 19 REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION It is ordered that the court adopts the Report (ECF No. 19), and the Commissioner's decision is affirmed. Signed by Honorable Timothy M Cain on 02/23/2017. (egra, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Angela D. Gosnell,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
Civil Action No. 9:15-4271-TMC
Plaintiff, Angela D. Gosnell (“Gosnell”), 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 Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits under
the Social Security Act (“SSA”).1 In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil
Rule 73.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial handling. Before
the court is the magistrate judge’s Report and Recommendation (“Report”), recommending that
this court affirm the Commissioner’s decision. (ECF No. 19). Gosnell timely filed objections
(ECF No. 21), and the Commissioner filed response (ECF No. 23).
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
Nancy A. Berryhill became the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration on
January 27, 2017. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.25(d), Berryhill should be substituted for Carolyn W.
Colvin as the defendant in this action.
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).
Gosnell filed an application for SSI on June 4, 2013, alleging that she became unable to
work on May 16, 2013, due to effects of injuries sustained to her nervous system and an organic
mental disorder. Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social
Security Administration. She requested a review by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and an
ALJ conducted a hearing on December 17, 2014.
On March 5, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision, finding that Gosnell was not disabled as
defined in the SSA. The ALJ found that Gosnell suffered from the severe impairments of
traumatic brain injury (“TBI”) with left sided hemiparesis, associated cognitive disorder, and
substance abuse, rendering her unable to perform any of her purported past relevant work as a
mechanic’s helper, garment inspector, and folder. The ALJ went on to find that Gosnell’s
impairments did not meet or medically equal the criteria for any of the listed impairments.
Accordingly, the ALJ proceeded to assess Gosnell’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”),
finding that Gosnell could perform a restricted range of light work with these conditions. The
ALJ stated that Gosnell has no past relevant work. After obtaining testimony from a vocational
expert, the ALJ concluded that Gosnell could perform other jobs in existence in the national
economy in significant numbers and, therefore, denied her claim.
Gosnell sought review by the Appeals Council. On August 20, 2015, the Appeals
Council denied Gosnell’s request for review. Gosnell then filed this action for judicial review.
The magistrate judge filed her Report on October 25, 2016. (ECF No. 19). On November 4,
2016, Gosnell filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 21), and on November 21, 2016, the
Commissioner filed a reply to those objections (ECF No. 23). This matter is now ripe for
II. Standard of Review
The federal judiciary has a limited role in the administrative scheme established by the
SSA. 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). Thus, in its review,
the court may not “undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations,
or substitute [its] own judgment for that of the [Commissioner].” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585,
589 (4th Cir. 1996).
However, “[f]rom this it does not follow . . . 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). Rather, “the 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.
Gosnell raises two objections. First, she contends that the magistrate judge erred by
finding the ALJ properly assessed Gosnell’s RFC. Gosnell contends the ALJ failed to provide
an adequate discussion of her RFC and failed to perform the requisite function-by-function
assessment. The magistrate judge determined that the ALJ included a detailed discussion of
Gosnell’s RFC and the medical evidence, and noted that the ALJ’s discussion covered eighteen
pages. (Report at 16, 18-19). In her objections, Gosnell cites to Littlejohn v. Colvin, C/A No.
1:14-2953-RMG, 2015 WL 1931426, at *19 (D.S.C. Apr. 28, 2015), in support of her argument
that a lengthy discussion with considerable detail does not mean the ALJ performed the proper
analysis, and she contends that the court has previously admonished the same ALJ for such
lengthy discussions. The court agrees that a lengthy discussion does not mean an ALJ has
adequately performed his duties. However, a lengthy discussion also does not mean the ALJ has
committed error as implied by Gosnell. Moreover, in Littlejohn, the court merely disagreed with
the ALJ and did not admonish the ALJ for a detailed and lengthy decision. See Littlejohn, 2015
WL 1931426, * 9 (noting that “[d]espite what appears to be a meticulous examination of the
factors set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c), the ALJ reached a conclusion regarding Dr.
Machimada's opinion that was not supported by substantial evidence.”).
In Mascio, the Fourth Circuit has clarified that there is no per se rule requiring a
function-by-function analysis in every case. Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 636 (4th Cir. 2015)
(quoting Cichocki v. Astrue, 729 F.3d 172, 177 (2d Cir. 2013)). The Mascio court recognized
that such a requirement would be “'futile' in cases where the ALJ does not discuss functions that
are 'irrelevant or uncontested.”' Id. Nevertheless, the court in Mascio held that a “[r]emand may
be appropriate. . . where an ALJ fails to assess a claimant's capacity to perform relevant
functions, despite contradictory evidence in the record, or where other inadequacies in the ALJ's
analysis frustrate meaningful review.” Id. (quoting Cichocki, 729 F.3d at 177).
Gosnell contends that here the ALJ erred in regard to the standing and sitting limitations
and should have found her capable of only sedentary work. Further, Gosnell argues that the ALJ
erred in failing to conduct an evaluation of her lifting limitations. Gosnell contends that the ALJ
did not indicate the amount of weight that she could lift and carry. In her Report, the magistrate
judge noted that the ALJ found Gosnell could perform light work which by definition means
Gosnell could not lift more than twenty pounds with frequent lifting or carrying of up to ten
pounds. (Report at 16). Moreover, the magistrate judge found that the evidence supports the
ALJ’s finding that Gosnell could stand and walk for two hours and sit for six hours and had the
lifting and carrying ability for light work. (Report at16-18).
The ALJ's discussion of Gosnell's RFC was not inadequate or ambiguous as in Mascio.
Here, the ALJ built a “logical bridge” between the conclusions regarding the RFC and the
evidence. Accordingly, the court agrees with the magistrate judge’s conclusion that there is
substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's findings and conclusions.
In her second objection, Gosnell asserts that the magistrate judge erred by finding that the
ALJ properly analyzed the opinion of treating physician, Dr. Amy Robbins Cantillion.
Specifically, Gosnell contends that the ALJ improperly rejected the treating physician’s workpreclusive limitations. The magistrate judge found that the ALJ took the deficits noted by Dr.
Cantillion into account in Gosnell’s RFC when he limited Gosnell’s standing and walking with
related postural limitations and limited her non-dominant left-hand and arm to helper status.
(Report at 23-24). Gosnell contends that the ALJ rejected Dr. Cantillion’s opinion and did not
provide an adequate explanation for doing so. First, the ALJ did not reject Dr. Cantillion’s
opinion. The ALJ declined to give Dr. Cantillion’s opinion controlling weight, and instead gave
it limited weight. (R. 40). The ALJ found that Dr. Cantillion’s opinions were not supported by
her own treatment notes, and contradicted by other evidence in the record. Id. Moreover, some of
the limitations in regard to standing and walking limitations were included in the RFC. The ALJ
evaluated and weighed the record evidence on this issue, and the court agrees with the finding of
the magistrate judge that there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's findings
Having conducted the required de novo review of the issues to which Gosnell has
objected, the court finds no basis for disturbing the Report. The court concurs with both the
reasoning and the result reached by the magistrate judge in her Report, and the ALJ’s decision is
supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the court adopts the Report (ECF No. 19), and the
Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/Timothy M. Cain
United States District Judge
February 23, 2017
Anderson, South Carolina
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