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Holley v. Colvin

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

December 22, 2014

Tammy L. Holley, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

For Tammy L Holley, Plaintiff: W Daniel Mayes, LEAD ATTORNEY, Smith Massey Brodie Thumond Guynn and Mayes, Aiken, 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 Sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act.

ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

The plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits (" DIB") and supplemental security income (" SSI") benefits on July 2, 2010, alleging that she became unable to work on November 1, 2006. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. On June 14, 2011, the plaintiff requested a hearing. The administrative law judge (" ALJ"), before whom the plaintiff and Arthur F. Schmitt, Ph.D., an impartial vocational expert, appeared at a video hearing on July 24, 2012, considered the case de novo, and on August 17, 2012, found that the plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, as amended. At the hearing, the plaintiff, through her attorney, amended her alleged onset date of disability to June 23, 2008. The ALJ's finding became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security when the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review on August 7, 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 meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2009.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 23, 2008, the amended alleged onset date (20 C.F.R § § 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq .).
(3) The claimant has the following severe combination of impairments: obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and is status post right wrist carpal tunnel surgery (20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
(4) 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. § § 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work[2] as defined in 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The claimant cannot climb, crawl, or kneel. She can perform no more than occasional fingering or fine manipulation with her dominant hand. Additionally, the claimant is allowed to exercise a sit/stand option at will.
(6) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § § 404.1565 and 416.965).
(7) The claimant was born on July 23, 1964, and was 42 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 C.F.R. § § 404.1563 and 416.963).
(8) The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. § § 404.1564 and 416.964).
(9) Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as 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).
(10) 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. § § 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
(11) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 23, 2008, through the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(g) and 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. § § 404.1520, 416.920. If an individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. § § 404.1520(a)(4), 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 which the plaintiff can perform despite the existence of ...


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