United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
action for judicial review of an administrative determination
under the Social Security Act was referred to a United States
Magistrate Judge for proposed findings of fact and
recommendation for disposition (“PF&R”)
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Now pending before
the Court are Claimant's request for judgment on the
pleadings and Defendant's request to affirm the decision
below. The Magistrate Judge recommends that this Court grant
Claimant's request, deny Defendant's request, vacate
the final decision of the Commissioner, and remand this
matter back to the Commissioner for further administrative
proceedings. Defendant filed an objection to the PF&R on
August 15, 2017. ECF No. 21. For the following reasons, the
Court ADOPTS AND INCORPORATES HEREIN the
Magistrate Judge's PF&R.
noted in the PF&R, “Claimant filed her application
for Title XVI benefits on December 11, 2013, alleging
disability since October 10, 2013. . .” ECF No. 20, at
2. After several administrative decisions and appeals, an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) entered a decision denying
Claimant's claims on June 26, 2015. Id. The
Appeals Council subsequently denied Claimant's Request
for Review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision
of Defendant. Id.
filed the present action on January 25, 2017, seeking
judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). ECF No. 2. After all responsive
pleadings were filed, Claimant filed a Memorandum in Support
of Judgment on the Pleadings in which she alleged that the
ALJ's decision contained multiple errors including that
the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the medical opinions of
Claimant's treating physician. ECF No. 17. In response to
Plaintiff's Memorandum, Defendant filed a Brief in
Support of Defendant's Decision, ECF No. 18.
Standards of Review
Standard of Review of PF&R
reviewing the PF&R, this Court must “make a de novo
determination of those portions of the … [Magistrate
Judge's] proposed findings or recommendations to which
objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). In
doing so, the Court can “accept, reject, or modify, in
whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the
magistrate judge.” Id. In this case, the only
objection made to the PF&R was brought by Defendant.
Defendant claims that the Magistrate Judge erred in
concluding that the “ALJ was required to recontact
[Claimant's] physician prior to discounting the treating
physician's opinion.” Since this is the primary
basis upon which the Magistrate Judge recommends that this
Court reverse the final decision of the Commissioner and
remand this matter for further proceedings, Defendant asks
the Court to find instead that the ALJ was not required to
recontact the physician and, accordingly, to affirm the
Commissioner's final decision.
Standard of Review of Commissioner's Decision
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), “[t]he court shall have
power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the
record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or
without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” After
reviewing the prescribed materials, if the Court finds that
the Commissioner's decision is supported by
“substantial evidence, ” the Court must affirm
the decision. Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773,
775 (4th Cir. 1972).
the Court may inquire as to whether a decision is supported
by “substantial evidence, ” however, it
“must first ascertain whether the agency has discharged
its duty to consider all relevant evidence.”
Sterling Smokeless Coal Co. v. Akers, 131 F.3d 438,
439 (4th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation and citation
omitted). “Unless the Secretary has analyzed all
evidence and has sufficiently explained the weight he has
given to obviously probative exhibits, to say that his
decision is supported by substantial evidence approaches an
abdication of the court's duty to scrutinize the record
as a whole to determine whether the conclusions reached are
rational.” Arnold v. Sec'y of Health, Educ. and
Welfare, 567 F.2d 258, 259 (4th Cir. 1977) (internal
quotation and citation omitted).
began complaining of lower extremity edema in October, 2013.
ECF No. 20, at 10. In November, 2013, Dr. Amy Garmestani,
M.D. became Claimant's primary care physician.
Id. Claimant's care relationship with Dr.
Garmestani continued throughout 2014 during which time Dr.
Garmestani treated Claimant for lower extremity edema among
other medical conditions and complaints. Id. at 11.
Throughout her time as Claimant's treating physician Dr.
Garmestani made notes that pertained to these conditions and
complaints, including notes regarding Claimant's lower
extremity edema. Id. At one point Dr. Garmestani
made the following note on her prescription pad:
“[Claimant] has chronic dependent edema for which she
is prescribed medication. Recommendations for treatment at
time include low sodium diet & elevation of the lower
extremities.” Id. at 11-12.
support of her claims, specifically for edema and colitis,
Claimant submitted this prescription pad note to the ALJ as
evidence of her medical disabilities. ECF No. 12-2, at 20.
The ALJ, after reviewing this note, concluded that the
treating physician's opinion was to be accorded
“little weight.” Id. He found that Dr.
Garmestani's opinion was “vague” and
“[did] not detail how ...