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Duren v. Colvin

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

March 19, 2015

Mary Duren, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge

The plaintiff, Mary Duren, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income benefits (“SSI”).

The role of the federal judiciary in the administrative scheme established by the Social Security Act is a limited one. Section 405(g) of the Act provides: “[T]he findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence has been defined innumerable times as more than a scintilla, but less than preponderance.” Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964); see, e.g., Daniel v. Gardner, 404 F.2d 889 (4th Cir. 1968); Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966); Tyler v. Weinberger, 409 F.Supp. 776 (E.D. Va. 1976). This standard precludes a de novo review of the factual circumstances that substitutes the Court’s findings for those of the Commissioner. See, e.g., Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971); Hicks v. Gardner, 393 F.2d 299 (4th Cir. 1968). “[T]he court [must] 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). As noted by Judge Sobeloff in Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278 (4th Cir. 1969), “[f]rom this it does not follow, however, that the findings of the administrative agency are to be mechanically accepted. The statutorily granted right of review contemplates more than an uncritical rubber stamping of the administrative action.” Id. at 279. “[T]he courts must not abdicate their responsibility to give careful scrutiny to the whole record to assure that there is a sound foundation for the [Commissioner’s] findings, and that his conclusion is rational.” Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.

Administrative Proceedings

The plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI in June of 2011, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2009, due to sarcoidosis; thyroid, kidney, and liver problems; hepatitis C; reflux; and depression. After her application was denied initially and on reconsideration, she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. Before the hearing was held, she amended her onset date to July 7, 2011. The hearing was held on March 21, 2013. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on May 2, 2013. The Appeals Council denied the plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s decision, thereby making the ALJ decision the Commissioner’s “final decision” for purposes of judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g); 20 C.F.R. §404.981 (2003).

The ALJ made the following findings in this case:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2016.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 7, 2011, the amended onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: pulmonary sarcoidosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (20 CFR 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 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 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 of no lifting or carrying over 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; with a 60-minute sit/stand option at the workstation; and in an environment free from dust, fumes, gases, odors, and extremes of temperature and humidity.
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a dispatcher. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant’s residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from July 7, 2011, ...

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