United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
GERALD BRUCE LEE, District Judge.
THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Nicole Lynn Davis' objections to Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis' May 21, 2014 Report and Recommendation to affirm the Commissioner's decision denying social security disability benefits to Plaintiff. (Doc. 24.) The Court ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation because the Administrative Law Judge's decision is supported by substantial evidence and applies the proper legal standard. Therefore, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 19) is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 12) is DENIED, and Plaintiff's Motion for Remand (Doc. 13) is DENIED. Accordingly, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration decision to deny Social Security supplemental income is AFFIRMED.
On September 2, 2009, Nicole Lynn Davis ("Plaintiff") filed an application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") with the Social Security Administration ("SSA") under Title II of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 23, at 1.) In her application, Plaintiff alleged that, she became disabled and unable to work on April 3, 2009 because she has bipolar disorder, three herniated discs in her back, fibromyalgia, and other mental impairments. (Administrative Record ("R"), at 78, 165.) The Commissioner of Social Security denied Plaintiffs application for benefits, and that denial was affirmed upon reconsideration. (Doc. 23, at 2.) As a result, Plaintiff sought and received a hearing before a Social Security Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on January 3, 2011. (Id.) On February 9, 2012, the All issued a decision denying Plaintiffs Supplemental Security Income claims. (Id.) The All found that Plaintiff's residual functional capacity was that Plaintiff can lift and carry five pounds frequently and ten pounds occasionally, cannot work above shoulder level, can occasionally climb ramps and/or stairs, and that she can perform simple routine tasks that do not require interaction with the public or more than occasional interaction with peers and supervisors. (R. at 23.) The All found that Plaintiff was capable of performing unskilled sedentary jobs, such as administrative support, addresser, document preparer, and surveillance system monitor, thousands of which positions exist locally based on her residual functional capacity and the testimony of a vocational expert. ( Id. at 27-28.) On April 22, 2013, the SSA's Appeals Council, the final review within the agency on Plaintiff's claims, reviewed and rejected Plaintiff's appeal. (Doc. 23, at 2.)
Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies within the SSA and she has filed this Complaint with the Court seeking review of the ALJ's opinion. (Id.) On October 24, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, and in the alternative a Motion for Remand (Does. 12-13). On November 12, 2013, Defendant filed a cross Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 19.) The parties waived oral argument on the pending motions. (Doc. 16; Doc. 21.) On May 21, 2014, Magistrate Judge Davis filed his Report and Recommendation ("R & R") with the Court, recommending that this Court affirm the ALJ's opinion. (Doc. 23.) On June 5, 2014, Plaintiff filed objections to the R & R (Doc. 24), and on June 13, 2014 Defendant replied. (Doc. 25.)
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
When considering a party's objections to a Magistrate Judge's R & R, "the district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); see also Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985) (la] judge of the [district] court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.") (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C)). Under de novo review, the district court may "accept, reject or modify the report in whole or in part, and may recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions" since the report and recommendation holds no "presumptive weight." Halloway v. Bashara, 176 F.R.D. 207, 209-10 (ED. Va. 1997). Additionally, the district judge must "give fresh consideration" to the pertinent issues objected to in the report and recommendation. United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675 (1980).
In reviewing an administrative finding of no disability, the district court's primary function is to determine "whether the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence" and whether the proper legal standard was followed. Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). "Substantial evidence" is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, [where] it consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be less than a preponderance." Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 1996)). If there is substantial evidence, the Court is not to re-weigh the evidence, nor should the Court substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). If the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, then they are conclusive and must be affirmed. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 390.
The Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment because, despite Plaintiff's two objections regarding the treating physician rule and credibility, the Court finds there is substantial evidence to support the conclusion of no disability. The issue before the Court is to determine whether there is substantial evidence that supports the ALls finding that Plaintiff was not disabled from April 3, 2009, her alleged onset date, through September 30, 2010, her date last insured. Plaintiff makes two objections in seeking review of the ALJ's decision. Plaintiffs first objection consists of two arguments: (1) The ALJ failed to follow the treating physician rule, and that (2) the All failed to properly determine Plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"). Plaintiffs second objection is that the ALJ failed to evaluate her credibility properly.
A. Treating Physician Rule
The Court rejects Plaintiffs argument that the ALT did not follow the Treating Physician Rule because the All provided substantial evidence to support why he gave some weight rather than controlling weight to the treating physician's opinions. For the first objection, Plaintiff makes two arguments. First, Plaintiff argues that the All failed to follow the Treating Physician Rule. Under the Treating Physician Rule, generally, more weight is given to the treating sources if the "nature and severity of the impairment(s) is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the] case record." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). A treating physician's opinion is not given controlling weight if the opinion is not supported by relevant evidence or if it is inconsistent with the record. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(3)-(4); see also Craig v. Chaser, 76 F.3d 585, 590 (4th Cir. 1996). If the All decides that the opinion of the treating physician should not be given controlling weight, he is to decide how much weight to give the opinion and provide "specific reasons" for the weight given. Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 35-36 (4th Cir. 1992). In deciding what weight to give to a medical opinion, the following five factors are considered: (1) the examining relationship, (2) the treatment relationship, (3) supportability, (4) consistency, and (5) specialization. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c).
The All found that the opinions of Dr. Bahadori and Dr. Kent were inconsistent with one another and with the record since their opinions state that Plaintiff needs to take frequent breaks and have excessive absenteeism from work when the evidence states otherwise. (R. at 26.) As a result, the ALJ gave each of their opinions some weight instead of controlling weight because of the internal inconsistencies. (Id.) In response, Plaintiff argues that the differences between the two doctors' opinions are only de minimis and the treating physicians' opinions should be given controlling weight, particularly because neither opinion is consistent with the ability to perform sedentary work. (Doc. 24, at 2.) Plaintiff further asserts that these treating physicians' opinions should have been given controlling weight since neither the ALJ nor the Magistrate Judge identified other better supported medical opinions or other persuasive evidence that establishes Plaintiff can perform full-time work. ( Id. at 4.) The Court rejects Plaintiff's arguments for a number of reasons.
First, the regulations, as previously noted, state that when there are inconsistencies with a treating physician's opinion, then it is not to be given controlling weight. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(3)44 Second, the ALJ found that the opinions of Dr. Bahadori and Dr. Kent were inconsistent with one another. (R. at 25-26.) Dr. Bahadori found that Plaintiff could lift and carry up to five pounds, sit thirty minutes a day, and could stand and walk up to two hours a day. ( Id. at 25.) However, Dr. Kent found that Plaintiff could lift and carry five pounds frequently and ten pounds occasionally, sit up to an hour a day, and could stand and walk up to one hour a day. ( Id. at 26.) This demonstrates inconsistencies that allow the All to determine how much weight is to be given to opinions. Third, the fact that both of the opinions are contrary to the record is also another reason why the opinions should not be given controlling weight. Dr. Bahadori and Dr. Kent's opinions state that Plaintiff had disabling physical limitations, but, as reflected in the record, Plaintiff never required any inpatient hospitalization or surgeries and only needed treatment through conservative measures. ( Id. at 24.) Furthermore, their opinions are inconsistent with Plaintiff's testimony about her daily activities as well, such as driving, shopping, working out at the gym, taking care of herself and her children, performing household chores, preparing meals, attending her nephew's game, and practicing Tai Chi. ( Id. at 22, 25.) Nonetheless, although the All did not give the treating physicians' opinions controlling weight, he gave both ...