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Synder v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

May 24, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Max O. Cogburn Jr. United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the court on review of a Memorandum and Recommendation (#12) issued in this matter. In the Memorandum and Recommendation, the magistrate judge advised the parties of the right to file objections within 14 days, all in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c). The defendant has filed objections within the time allowed.


         I. Introduction

         The Federal Magistrates Act of 1979, as amended, provides that “a district court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specific proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983). However, “when objections to strictly legal issues are raised and no factual issues are challenged, de novo review of the record may be dispensed with.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). Similarly, de novo review is not required by the statute “when a party makes general or conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations.” Id. Moreover, the statute does not on its face require any review at all of issues that are not the subject of an objection. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985); Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d at 200. Nonetheless, a district judge is responsible for the final determination and outcome of the case, and accordingly the court has conducted a careful review of the magistrate judge's recommendation.

         II. Defendant's Objections

         Subsequent to Magistrate Judge Howell's Memorandum and Recommendation, the defendant timely filed her objections (#13). Specifically, the defendant raises two objections under the same argument, to wit, that even if the ALJ did err those errors were harmless. Defendant objects to two findings of the Magistrate Judge related to the treatment of opinions by Dr. Mukesh Kamdar and the absence of a discussion of Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scores.

         Briefly, the court's task is not to re-weigh the evidence presented to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) or to ascertain whether the petitioner is indeed disabled, but instead the court is asked whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence. See Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Generally, failure by the Commissioner to consider an entire line of evidence falls well below the minimal level of articulation required by the Social Security Act. Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 307 (7th Cir. 1995). However, an ALJ is not tasked with the “impossible burden of mentioning every piece of evidence” that may be placed into the Administrative Record. Phipps v. Colvin, No. 3:13-CV-00315-MOC, 2014 WL 31798, at *2 (W.D. N.C. Jan. 6, 2014); Parks v. Sullivan, 766 F.Supp. 627, 635 (N.D.Ill. 1991).

         A. Dr. Kamdar's Opinons

         A treating physician is a physician who has observed the plaintiff's condition over a prolonged period of time. Mitchell v. Schweiker, 699 F.2d 185, 187 (4th Cir. 1983). The opinion of a treating physician is only entitled to controlling weight if it is supported by “clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques, ” and is not inconsistent with other substantial evidence. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2).

If a physician's opinion is not given controlling weight, then the “factors listed below” and in paragraphs (d)(3) through (5) used to determine the amount of weight to be given it are (1) the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination (“the longer a treating source has treated you and the more times you have been seen by a treating source, the more weight we will give to the source's medical opinion”); (2) the nature and extent of the treatment relationship; (3) supportability (“the more a medical source presents relevant evidence to support an opinion, particularly medical signs and laboratory findings, the more weight we will give that opinion”); (4) consistency (“the more consistent an opinion is with the record as a whole, the more weight we will give to that opinion”); and (5) specialization (“[w]e generally give more weight to the opinion of a specialist about medical issues related to his or her area of specialty than to the opinion of a source who is not a specialist”). Id. The regulation also makes clear, however, that the ultimate determination of disability is reserved for the Commissioner, and “[a] statement by a medical source that you are ‘disabled' or ‘unable to work' does not mean that we will determine that you are disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(e)(1).

Pittman v. Massanari 141 F.Supp.2d 601, *608 (W.D. N.C. 2001). Here, the court finds that the ALJ properly gave little weight to the treatment source, Dr. Kamdar and adequately explained that Dr. Kamdar's findings were not consistent with the record and, consequently, not to be afforded controlling weight. As the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held:

Thus, “[b]y negative implication, if a physician's opinion is not supported by clinical evidence or if it is inconsistent with other substantial evidence, it should be accorded significantly less weight.” Craig, 76 F.3d at 590. Under such circumstances, the ALJ holds the discretion to give less weight to the testimony of a treating physician in the face of persuasive contrary evidence.

Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 178 (4th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). The court finds that the ALJ properly fulfilled his obligation of explaining why he gave the opinion of Dr. Hume little weight. Defendant's ...

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