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Hudgens v. Colvin

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

December 23, 2014

Michael Hudgens, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

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, who is proceeding pro se, 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 his 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 December 17, 2010, alleging that he became unable to work on September 29, 2010 (Tr. 48). The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. On August 29, 2011, the plaintiff requested a hearing. The administrative law judge (" ALJ"), before whom the plaintiff, who was then represented by counsel, appeared on July 5, 2012, considered the case de novo, and on August 9, 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 his attorney, amended his alleged onset date to June 7, 2011, the date of denial by the Appeals Council of the plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision on his prior application (Tr. 11, 48; see Tr. 57-77, 10/5/2010 ALJ decision; Tr. 83-87, 6/7/2011, Appeals Council decision). 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 September 19, 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, 2015.

(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 29, 2010, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R § § 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq .).

(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments: cervical degenerative disc changes (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, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c). The claimant is able to lift a maximum of 50 pounds occasionally (up to 2 hours per day) and 25 pounds frequently. He can stand a maximum of 6 hours in an 8 hour workday and can sit intermittently during the remaining time of day. He is able to push and pull arm and leg controls and frequently bend and stoop.

(6) The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a bus boy, janitor, and grocery bagger. These jobs do not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 C.F.R. § § 404.1565 and 416.965).

(7) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from September 29, 2010, through the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f)).

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 4, 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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