United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division
K. MOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions
for summary judgment (dkts. 9 and 11),  the Report and
Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Robert S.
Ballou (dkt. 20, hereinafter “R&R”), and
Plaintiff's objections to the R&R (dkt. 21,
hereinafter “Objections”). Pursuant to Standing
Order 2011-17 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), the Court
referred this matter to Judge Ballou for proposed findings of
fact and a recommended disposition. Judge Ballou's
R&R advises this Court to deny Plaintiff's motion for
summary judgment and grant the Commissioner's motion for
summary judgment. Plaintiff timely filed her objections,
obligating the Court to undertake a de novo review
of those portions of the R&R to which objections were
made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Farmer
v. McBride, 177 F. App'x 327, 330 (4th Cir. 2006).
Because Plaintiff's Objections lack merit, I will adopt
the R&R in full.
Standard of Review
reviewing court must uphold the factual findings of the ALJ
if they are supported by substantial evidence and were
reached through application of the correct legal standard.
See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3);
Hines v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 561 (4th Cir.
2006). Substantial evidence requires more than a mere
scintilla, but less than a preponderance, of evidence.
Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001).
A finding is supported by substantial evidence if it is based
on “relevant evidence [that] a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir.
2005) (per curiam).
reviewing court may not “re-weigh conflicting evidence,
make credibility determinations, or substitute [its]
judgment” for that of the ALJ. Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (citation
omitted). “Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable
minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the
responsibility for that decision falls on the Secretary (or
the Secretary's designate, the ALJ).” Id.
(quoting Walker v. Bowen, 834 F.2d 635, 640 (7th
Cir. 1987)). “Ultimately, it is the duty of the [ALJ]
reviewing a case, and not the responsibility of the courts,
to make findings of fact and to resolve conflicts in the
evidence.” Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453,
1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Thus, even if the court would have made
contrary determinations of fact, it must nonetheless uphold
the ALJ's decision, so long as it is supported by
substantial evidence. See Whiten v. Finch, 437 F.2d
73, 74 (4th Cir. 1971).
Plaintiff does not object to the R&R's recitation of
the factual background and claim history in this case, I
incorporate that portion of the R&R into this opinion.
(See R&R at 2-3). By way of summary, Plaintiff
applied for, but was denied, Disability Insurance Benefits
and Supplemental Security Income under the Social Security
Act. Plaintiff alleged that she was disabled due to severe
migraines, depression, emotional problems, and pain. After a
hearing and an initial determination that Plaintiff was not
disabled, Administrative Law Judge Mark A. O'Hara
(hereinafter “ALJ”) reviewed the case again on
remand from the Appeals Council. The ALJ maintained his
determination that Plaintiff was not disabled after
conducting another hearing that included testimony from an
impartial medical expert Charles L. Cooke, M.D. and
vocational expert Gerald K. Wells, Ph.D. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff was insured at the time the alleged disability
began and that, while she suffered from the medically
determinable impairments, none limited her ability to perform
basic work activities. Accordingly, these impairments were
not “severe.” Therefore, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff did not satisfy step two of the sequential five
step disability determination,  and concluded that Plaintiff was
makes two objections to the R&R, arguing that Judge
Ballou erred in finding the ALJ: (1) properly weighed the
medical opinion evidence, and appropriately found that
Plaintiff's headaches were “not severe”; and
(2) properly evaluated Ms. Pitts credibility. Each is
Weight of Medical Opinion Evidence
Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in concluding that the
opinions of Dr. Login, Plaintiff's treating physician,
should be given little weight. The Court concurs with Judge
Ballou's assessment that substantial evidence supported
the ALJ's decision to give little weight to the Dr.
Login's opinion. Thus, the Court overrules the
Plaintiff's objection on this point.
it is the Commissioner's role to make disability
determinations, the ALJ is still bound by federal regulations
to provide “good reasons” for not giving
controlling weight to a treating physician's medical
opinions. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2).
However, a treating physician's legal conclusions are
given no additional or special weight. See Morgan v.
Barnhart, 142 F. App'x 716, 722 (4th Cir. 2005). In
the event that the treating physician's medical opinion
is not given controlling weight, the ALJ must analyze five
factors to determine what weight should be given
to the opinion. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(2)-(5),
Judge Ballou correctly recognized, the ALJ appropriately gave
consideration to all of these factors in determining that the
medical opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician should
not be given controlling weight. (R&R at 10-11). The ALJ
noted that Dr. Login's opinion was not consistent with
the “longitudinal record” and was based on
symptoms reported by Plaintiff, who the ALJ found lacked
credibility. (R at 35). Moreover, no other treating physician
concurred with Dr. Login that Plaintiff was disabled.
(Id.) The ALJ also found that Dr. Login had taken an
“advocacy role on the behalf of the claimant, ”
resulting in a loss of objectivity in determining
Plaintiff's true condition. (Id. at 36). The ALJ
reasoned that such a loss of objectivity was apparent from
the fact that Dr. Login “gloss[ed] over”
Plaintiff's apparent drug seeking behavior, while
Plaintiff's alleged symptoms did not align with her
physical condition. (Id.)
response, Plaintiff directs the Court's attention to
several cases rejecting speculation by the ALJ as to a
treating physician's possible sympathetic or nefarious
motivations. See Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 832
(9th Cir. 1995); Sullivan v. Colvin, 4:12-cv-04033,
2013 WL 2155115 *5 (W.D. Ark. May 17, 2013); Tully v.
Colvin, 943 F.Supp.2d 1157, 1168 (E.D. Wash. 2013);
Trujillo v. Astrue, No. 1:12-cv-89, 2013 WL 706270
*5 (D. Utah Feb. 26, 2013). Yet these cases serve only to
knock down a straw man propped up by Plaintiff. The ALJ did
not infer sympathy or dishonesty by Dr. Login in the
abstract. Rather, as discussed above, the ALJ supported his
decision to give Dr. Login's medical opinion
“little weight” with substantial evidence from
the administrative record. (R at 35). Thus, Plaintiff's
objection as to this matter will be overruled.