United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Raymond A. Jackson United Slates District Judge
matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs objections to the
Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation on OSCAR
VANN COBB's ("Plaintiff) action for judicial review
on the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration ("Defendant")
denying Plaintiffs claim for child's insurance benefits.
For the reasons set forth below, the Magistrate Judge's
Report and Recommendation ("R & R") is ADOPTED.
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgement is GRANTED and
Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED. ECF Nos.
13. 11. The final decision of the Commissioner is hereby
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
September 28, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for
child's insurance benefits based on his deceased
father's earnings. Plaintiff alleges that he has been
disabled due to sickle cell anemia and other conditions since
March 1. 1975. prior to his twenty-second birthday on
September 15. 1087. R. at 12. 87. On December 22. 2011. the
Commissioner denied Plaintiffs application initially. R. at
78-84. 87. and upon reconsideration on December 9. 2012. R.
at 88-95. 97. Plaintiff sought an administrative hearing
before a Social Security Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ"). During the first hearing on February 13,
2013, Plaintiff was unrepresented and the hearing was
continued to allow Plaintiff to obtain counsel and medical
records from the 1970s and 1980s. R. at 28-38. Following the
second hearing on September 23, 2013, at which Plaintiff was
represented by counsel, the ALJ denied Plaintiffs claim for
child's insurance benefits, concluding that Plaintiff
failed to meet his burden to prove he had a disability prior
to the age of twenty-two. R. at 12-19, 41-60. On May 6, 2015,
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request to review the
ALJ's decision. R. at 1. Thus, the ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner.
exhausted all administrative remedies within the Social
Security Administration, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the
Court seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). On June 23, 2015, the
Court entered an order pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B) directing United States Magistrate Judge Tommy
E. Miller to conduct hearings, including evidentiary
hearings, and to submit to the Court a report containing
proposed findings of facts and recommendations. ECF No. 9.
Magistrate Judge Miller ordered the parties to file Motions
for Summary Judgment and their respective memoranda. ECF No.
10. On March 3, 2016, Magistrate Judge Miller filed his
Report and Recommendation ("R & R") with the
Court. ECF No. 16. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1), the parties were given fourteen (14) days from the
date of the R & R to object to its contents with the
Court. On March 15, 2016 Plaintiff filed an objection to the
R & R to which Defendant responded on March 25, 2016. ECF
Nos. 17, 18. This matter is now ripe for judicial
party timely objects to the findings and recommendations of a
magistrate judge, a 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 Wimmer v. Cook, 174 F.2d 68, 73 (4th Cir.
1985) ("[A]ny individual findings of fact or
recommendations for disposition by him, if objected to, are
subject to final de novo determination ... by a
district judge ...."). Under de novo review,
the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation ("R
& R") carries no presumptive weight, and the
district court may accept, reject, or modify the report, in
whole or in part, or may recommit the matter to the
magistrate judge with instructions. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3);
Halloway v. Bahsara, 176 F.R.D. 207, 209-10 (E.D.
Va. 1997). When conducting this de novo
determination, a district court judge must give
''fresh consideration" to the relevant portions
of the magistrate judge's R & R. United States v.
Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675 (1980).
reviewing a decision made under the Social Security Act must
determine whether the factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence and were reached through application of
the correct legal standard. Craig v. Chalet; 76 F.3d
585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). "Substantial evidence" is
"such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion; [i]t consists of
more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat
less than a preponderance." Id. (alteration in
original) (citation omitted) (first quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), then quoting Laws
v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)). In
reviewing for substantial evidence, the Court does not
reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Id. The Commissioner's findings as
to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are
conclusive and must be affirmed. See Richardson, 402
U.S. at 390.
objects to the Magistrate Judge's finding that
substantial evidence supported the Administrative Law
Judge's ("ALJ") conclusion that Plaintiff had
not been disabled under the Social Security Act prior to the
age of twenty-two. ECF No. 17. Specifically, Plaintiff argues
that the Magistrate Judge and the ALJ failed to analyze the
documents provided by Dr. Cassandra Jones, Dr. Rudy Kokich,
and Dr. Vincent Lee that state Plaintiff was diagnosed with
sickle cell anemia and has been impaired by it since birth.
Id. at 2. Plaintiff claims that because the
Magistrate Judge and the ALJ did not include references to
specific quotes from those doctors that their respective
recommendation and decision did not include a detailed
analysis of the medical record. Id. Additionally,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to scrutinize whether
the doctors' statements referred to the period before
Plaintiffs twenty-second birthday. Id. For those
reasons, Plaintiff moves to have the final decision of the
Commissioner reversed, or, in the alternative, remanded for
further proceedings with the ALJ. Id. at 3. This
Court has carefully and independently reviewed the record in
this case and the Plaintiffs objections to the Magistrate
Judge's Report and Recommendation. Having done so, the
Court finds that there are no meritorious reasons to sustain
the Plaintiffs objections.
determine whether the claimant suffers from a disability, the
ALJ must make a series of sequential fact determinations to
establish whether a claimant is eligible for disability
benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. As the
regulations require, the ALJ must carefully consider whether
the disability claimant (1) is engaged in substantial gainful
activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment
that equals a condition contained within the Social Security
Administration's official listing of impairments; (4) has
an impairment that prevents him from past relevant work; and
(5) has an impairment that prevents him from any substantial
gainful employment. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4). The
claimant bears the burden of proof on steps one through four.
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).
However, should the analysis reach step five, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner. Id.
the ALJ ended the analysis at step two of the inquiry finding
that Plaintiff did not establish a severe impairment prior to
reaching age twenty-two. R. at 16-19. The ALJ must consider
the objective medical facts; the diagnoses and expert medical
opinions of treating and examining physicians; the
claimant's subjective evidence of pain and disability;
and the claimant's background, work history, and present
age. Hayes v. Gardner, 376 F.2d 517, 520 (4th Cir.
1967). When evaluating medical opinions, the ALJ must
consider "(1) whether the physician has examined the
applicant, (2) the treatment relationship between the
physician and the applicant, (3) the supportability of the
physician's opinion, (4) the consistency of the opinion
with the record, and (5) whether the physician is a
specialist." Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650
(4th Cir. 2005); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527.
The opinion of a treating physician will be given controlling
weight only when it is supported by clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with other
substantial evidence. Craig, 76 F.3d at 590 (quoting
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d)(2), 416.927(d)(2)).
objections challenge that the ALJ inappropriately weighed and
inadequately explained the medical opinions in the record.
ECF No. 17. Plaintiff claims that the ALJ did not properly
analyze the medical opinions of Dr. Jones, Dr. Kokich, and
Dr. Lee, and did not include those opinions in making the
determination that Plaintiff was not disabled prior to
turning twenty-two. ECF No. 17, at 2-3. However, while the
ALJ did not include quotations of these various opinions, the
ALJ explained his conclusions and why he weighed the opinions
differently. Even though these physicians were adult treating
physicians of Plaintiff, they were not treating physicians of
Plaintiff during the relevant time period. R. at 18; see
also Russell v. Comm's of Soc. Sec, 440 Fed.Appx.
163, 164 (4th Cir. 2011) (holding ALJ did not err when
discounting the weight of the treating physician's
opinion when the physician had not seen patient for six
months prior to disability assessment). Furthermore, as the
ALJ indicates, there was no corroborating evidence on the
record of objective medical evidence or clinical and
laboratory techniques to support those opinions. Id.
As such, the ALJ appropriately did not award those opinions
with controlling weight. More importantly, the ALJ did
consider these opinions in finding that Plaintiff established
a medically determinable impairment of sickle cell anemia.
Id. Rather than follow the state agency
consultants' opinion that Plaintiff failed to establish
any impairment prior to age twenty-two. the ALJ, relied on a
report from 1982 and the congenital nature of the disease
explained in the opinions of Dr. Jones, Dr. Kokich, and Dr.
Lee to determine Plaintiff was impaired by sickle cell
anemia. Id. at 17.
does not dispute Plaintiffs diagnosis of sickle cell anemia.
He recognizes that Plaintiff suffers from the impairment and
has since birth. The ALJ questions the severity of the
impairment, not its existence. Id. at 17-18. While
the opinion evidence on which Plaintiff relies establishes
presence of an impairment, the presence of the impairment
alone does not indicate presence of a disability under the
Social Security Act, which requires "inability to engage
in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable ... impairment which can be expected
to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to
last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1); see Gross v.
Heckler,785 F.2d 1163, 1166 (4th Cir. 1986) (holding
that ailments and disorders do not qualify for disability
without a "showing of related functional loss").
Plaintiff offers no objective evidence to support the
opinions of Dr. Jones, Dr. Kokich, and Dr. Lee, that
Plaintiff suffered severe and frequent sickle cell crises
during the time period in question. The ALJ explained he
"essentially has only a diagnosis to consider." R.
at 17. The only medical evidence probative to the issue of
the severity of Plaintiff s sickle cell anemia within the
relevant time period prior to September 14, 1987. is an
examination from 1CJ82 that cleared Plaintiff for
participation in the Special Olympics. Id. at 17-18.
While that report contained a diagnosis of ...