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McAbee v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division

November 20, 2014

Angelia N. McAbee, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

For Angelia N McAbee, Plaintiff: Carole M Dennison, LEAD ATTORNEY, Timothy Allen Clardy, Dennison Law Firm, Greenville, SC.

For Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant: Barbara Murcier Bowens, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorneys Office, Columbia, SC.

REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Kevin F. McDonald, United States Magistrate Judge.

This case is before the court for a report and recommendation pursuant to Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a) (D.S.C.), concerning the disposition of Social Security cases in this District, and Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1)(B).[1]

The plaintiff brought this action pursuant to Section 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. 1383(c)(3)), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.

ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

The plaintiff initially filed for disability insurance benefits (" DIB") and supplemental security income (" SSI") in June 2007. Those applications were denied on January 29, 2010. She did not appeal that decision. The plaintiff filed a second application for SSI benefits on March 29, 2010, alleging that she became unable to work on January 29, 2010. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. On April 4, 2011, the plaintiff requested a hearing. The administrative law judge (" ALJ"), before whom the plaintiff and Carey A. Washington, an impartial vocational expert, appeared on December 19, 2011, considered the case de novo and, on March 23, 2012, found that the plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, as amended. The ALJ's finding became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security when the Appeals Council denied review on July 1, 2013. The plaintiff then filed this action for judicial review.

In making the determination that the plaintiff is not entitled to benefits, the Commissioner has adopted the following findings of the ALJ:

(1) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 30, 2010, the application date (20 C.F.R § 416.971 et seq ).
(2) The claimant has the following severe impairments: cervical spine disorder, fibromyalgia, depression, and PTSD (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c)).
(3) The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. § § 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926).
(4) After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c). To wit, she can lift or carry up to fifty pounds on an occasional basis and up to twenty-five pounds on a frequent basis. He [sic] can stand, walk, and sit for up to six hours during any given eight hour work period. He [sic] has no limitations in his [sic] ability to push or pull with the lower and upper extremities.
Claimant is further restricted to occasional climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She is restricted to frequent engagement in all other measured postural activities, including balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and climbing of ramps and stairs (Id. at Page 3).
Claimant is likewise limited to frequent reaching, handling, fingering, and feeling (Page 4). She is directed to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards such as machinery and unprotected heights. As a result of her " severe" mental impairments, I find that she is restricted to simple, 1-2 step tasks and up to occasional contact with the public.
(5) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § 416.965).
(6) The claimant was born on September 2, 1969, and was 40 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application was filed (20 C.F.R. § 416.963).
(7) The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. § 416.964).
(8) Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules of a framework supports a finding that the claimant is " not disabled, " whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills ( See SSR 82-41 and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
(9) Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. § § 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
(10) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since March 30, 2010, the date the application was filed (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)).

The only issues before the court are whether proper legal standards were applied and whether the final decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence.

APPLICABLE LAW

The Social Security Act provides that disability benefits shall be available to those persons insured for benefits, who are not of retirement age, who properly apply, and who are under a " disability." 42 U.S.C. § 423(a). " Disability" is defined in 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) as:

the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for at least 12 consecutive months.

To facilitate a uniform and efficient processing of disability claims, the Social Security Act has by regulation reduced the statutory definition of " disability" to a series of five sequential questions. An examiner must consider whether the claimant (1) is engaged in substantial gainful activity, (2) has a severe impairment, (3) has an impairment that equals an illness contained in the Social Security Administration's Official Listings of Impairments found at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1, (4) has an impairment that prevents past relevant work, and (5) has an impairment that prevents him from doing substantial gainful employment. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. If an individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. § 416.920(a)(4).

A plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act if he can return to past relevant work as it is customarily performed in the economy or as the claimant actually performed the work. SSR 82-62, 1982 WL 31386, at *3. The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing his inability to work within the meaning of the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5). He must make a prima facie showing of disability by showing he is unable to return to his past relevant work. Grant v. Schweiker, 699 F.2d 189, 191 (4th Cir. 1983).

Once an individual has established an inability to return to his past relevant work, the burden is on the Commissioner to come forward with evidence that the plaintiff can perform alternative work and that such work exists in the regional economy. The Commissioner may carry the burden of demonstrating the existence of jobs available in the national economy that the plaintiff can perform despite the existence of impairments that prevent the return to past relevant work by obtaining testimony from a vocational expert. Id.

The scope of judicial review by the federal courts in disability cases is narrowly tailored to determine whether the findings of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Consequently, the Act precludes a de novo review of the evidence and requires the court to uphold the Commissioner's decision as long as it is supported by substantial evidence. See Pyles v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 846, 848 (4th Cir. 1988) ...


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