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Miller v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

April 22, 2014

VERONICA JENEAN MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

BRISTOW MARCHANT, Magistrate Judge.

The Plaintiff filed the complaint in this action, pro se, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner wherein she was denied disability benefits. This case was referred to the undersigned for a report and recommendation pursuant to Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), (D.S.C.).

Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)[2] on April 21, 2009 (protective filing date), alleging disability as of October 20, 2005 due to a bulging disc in her back, ankle problems, arthritis and depression. (R.pp. 33, 176-186, 208). Plaintiff's claims were denied both initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on August 8, 2011. (R.pp. 51-81). The ALJ thereafter denied Plaintiff's claims in a decision issued August 18, 2011. (R.pp. 33-44). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review of the decision, thereby making the determination of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R.pp. 14-19).

Plaintiff then filed this action, pro se, in United States District Court. Plaintiff does not identify any specific claims of error in her Complaint, stating only that she believes the Commissioner's decision to deny her claim for disability is based on "errors of law" and is "not supported by substantial evidence of record". Unfortunately, Plaintiff also failed to file a Brief supporting her Complaint pursuant to Local Rule 83.VII.04, D.S.C.; therefore, there is no further explanation from Plaintiff in the record as to what, if any, specific claims of error are being asserted. The Commissioner contends that the decision to deny benefits is supported by substantial evidence, and that Plaintiff was properly found not to be disabled.

Scope of review

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court's scope of review is limited to (1) whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the ultimate conclusions reached by the Commissioner are legally correct under controlling law. Hays v. Sullivan , 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); Richardson v. Califano , 574 F.2d 802, 803 (4th Cir. 1978); Myers v. Califano , 611 F.2d 980, 982-983 (4th Cir. 1980). If the record contains substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision, it is the court's duty to affirm the decision. Substantial evidence has been defined as:

evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance. If there is evidence to justify refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is "substantial evidence." [emphasis added].

Hays , 907 F.2d at 1456 (citing Laws v. Celebrezze , 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966)).

The Court lacks the authority to substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Laws , 368 F.2d at 642. "[T]he language of [405(g)] precludes a de novo judicial proceeding and requires that the court uphold the [Commissioner's] decision even should the court disagree with such decision as long as it is supported by substantial evidence." Blalock v. Richardson , 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972).

Discussion

A review of the record shows that Plaintiff, who was only thirty-three (33) years old when she alleges she became totally disabled, [3] has a high school education with past relevant work experience as a supervisor of a call center, leasing agent, and driver. (R.p. 42, 64-66, 69-70, 216-222, 227). In order to be considered "disabled" within the meaning of the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must show that she has an impairment or combination of impairments which prevent her from engaging in all substantial gainful activity for which she is qualified by her age, education, experience and functional capacity, and which has lasted or could reasonably be expected to last for at least twelve (12) consecutive months.

After a review of the evidence and testimony in the case, the ALJ determined that, although Plaintiff does suffer from the "severe" impairments[4] of degenerative disc disease, lumbar spine stenosis, and obesity, she nevertheless retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a restricted range of light work, [5] and was therefore not entitled to disability benefits. (R.pp. 35, 38, 42-43). As noted, Plaintiff has failed to provide the Court with any arguments or rationale for why this decision should be reversed, and after careful review and consideration of the evidence presented, the undersigned finds and concludes for the reasons set forth hereinbelow that there is substantial evidence to support the decision of the Commission, and that the decision should therefore be affirmed. Laws , 368 F.2d 640 [Substantial evidence is "evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion"].

I.

First, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's physical impairments, although severe, did not preclude the ability to perform light work with the restrictions noted.[6] Hospital records in the file dating back to 2006 reflect only that Plaintiff was seen on a few occasions complaining of back pain, and that she had been diagnosed with lumbar radiculopathy. See generally, (R.pp. 278-281, 283). The record also reflects that Plaintiff received epidural injections for her complaints of pain in 2005 and 2006; (R.pp. 290-293, 295-300, 336-339); and that she had gastric bypass surgery on May 15, 2006. (R.pp. 313-314). There is nothing in these records to indicate a disabling condition, however. The ALJ noted in the decision that, following her gastric bypass surgery, Plaintiff lost a significant amount of weight, although she was still morbidly obese; (R.p. 36); while an MRI of Plaintiff's lumbar spine on April 14, 2008 revealed only mild degenerative changes in the SI joints bilaterally; minimal spondylosis at the L1-2 and L2-3 levels without ...


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