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King v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of South Carolina, Beaufort Division

January 26, 2015

SHAINA ERINN KING, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND AFFIRMING DEFENDANT’S DECISION

MARY G. LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This is a Social Security appeal in which Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of Defendant denying Plaintiff’s claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Plaintiff is represented by excellent counsel. The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (Report) of the United States Magistrate Judge suggesting that Defendant’s decision be affirmed. The Report was made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina.

The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objection is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

The Magistrate Judge filed the Report on October 16, 2014, Plaintiff filed her objections on October 31, 2014, and Defendant filed her reply on November 6, 2014. The Court has carefully considered the objections, but finds them to be without merit. Therefore, it will enter judgment accordingly.

Plaintiff’s alleged disability, idiopathic hypersomnia, commenced on October 1, 2007. “Idiopathic hypersomnia” is defined as “a sleep disorder in which you’re excessively sleepy during the day.” www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypersomnia/basics/definition/CON-20036556 (last visited on January 23, 2015). Plaintiff’s applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). After the requested hearing, the ALJ issued a decision dated January 13, 2011, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council, however, remanded the claim to the ALJ. After the second hearing, the ALJ again denied Plaintiff’s claim in a decision dated March 12, 2012. The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff’s request for review, thus making the ALJ’s March 12, 2012, decision Defendant’s final decision for purposes of judicial review. Thereafter, Plaintiff brought her action in this Court seeking judicial review of Defendant’s final decision.

The Agency has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The five steps are: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaging in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a medically determinable severe impairment(s); (3) whether such impairment(s) meets or equals an impairment set forth in the Listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevents the claimant from returning to her past relevant work; and, if so, (5) whether the claimant is able to perform other work as it exists in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I)-(v), 416.920(a)(4)(I)-(v). As noted already, the ALJ determined here that Plaintiff was not disabled. Administrative Record 49.

Plaintiff’s first objection to the Report is that the Magistrate Judge erred in rejecting her argument that “the ALJ failed to address the Step Three question of whether her impairments, singly or in combination, equaled the severity of a Listing.” Objection 1. Although there is no Listing for Plaintiff’s impairment, one can be found to be disabled if their impairment, or a combination of their impairments, are equivalent to the criteria of a Listing. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926. According to Plaintiff, although she suffers from an impairment not found in the Listings, her impairment is medically equal to Listing 11.03 (non-convulsive epilepsy). Listing 11.03 provides as follows:

Epilepsy-nonconvulsive epilepsy (petit mal, psychomotor, or focal), documented by detailed description of a typical seizure pattern, including all associated phenomena; occurring more frequently than once weekly in spite of at least 3 months of prescribed treatment. With alteration of awareness or loss of consciousness and transient postictal manifestations of unconventional behavior or significant interference with activity during the day.

20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P., App. 1 at § 11.03.

In analyzing Plaintiff’s claim, the ALJ stated as follows:

There is no particular listing for evaluating [Plaintiff’s] idiopathic hypersomnia under the Listings of Impairments. The [Plaintiff’s] attorney argues that the severity of [Plaintiff’s] idiopathic hypersomnia equals the severity of Listing 11.03, which pertains to epilepsy. However, there is no evidence that the claimant has been diagnosed with nonconvulsive epilepsy with documented detail descriptions of an alteration of awareness or loss of consciousness and transient postictal manifestations of unconventional behavior or significant interference with activity during the day. As such, the [Plaintiff’s] idiopathic hypersomnia is not of listing level severity.

Administrative Record 43 (citation omitted).

Plaintiff contends that “[t]here is absolutely no indication that the ALJ did consider the Listing equivalence question, either in the [above] quoted paragraph, which simply recites the elements of the Listing, or elsewhere in the decision.” Objections 2. As such, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ’s failure to more fully explain his decision “renders this forum unable to determine whether his decision was actually supported by substantial evidence.” Id. at 3. The Court is unconvinced. Plaintiff bears both the burden of production and the burden of proof that she is disabled under the Act. See Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). But, in the instant matter, Plaintiff has failed to satisfy either requirement.

The Court need not linger here long. First, the ALJ’s failure to give more explanation for his decision that Plaintiff’s impairment alone did not equal the severity of Listing 11.03 is not reversible error where, as here, it is clear from the record that his having written more would have had no effect on the outcome of the case. See Benskin v. Bowen, 830 F.2d 878, 883 (8th Cir. 1987) (“An arguable deficiency in opinion-writing technique is not a sufficient reason for setting aside an administrative finding where . . . the deficiency probably had no practical effect on the outcome of the case.”) And second, “the burden of showing that an error is ...


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