United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division
DAVID C. NORTON, District Judge.
This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Kevin McDonald's report and recommendation ("R&R") that the court affirm the Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny claimant Leo Jenkins' ("Jenkins") application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). Jenkins has filed objections to the R&R. For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the R&R and affirms the Commissioner's decision.
Unless otherwise noted, the following background is drawn from the R&R.
Jenkins filed an application for DIB on December 13, 2010, alleging disability as of June 1, 2009. The Social Security Administration ("the Agency") denied Jenkins's application both initially and on reconsideration. Jenkins requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on September 13, 2011. On June 5, 2012, Jenkins and Victor G. Alberigi ("Alberigi"), an impartial vocational expert, appeared before the ALJ. The ALJ found that Jenkins did not suffer from a disability as defined in the Social Security Act on June 14, 2012. The Appeals Council denied Jenkins' request for a review on May 20, 2013, making the ALJ's finding the final decision of the Commissioner.
On July 23, 2013, Jenkins filed the present action for judicial review. On September 10, 2014, the magistrate judge issued the instant R&R, recommending that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed. Jenkins objected to portions of the R&R on September 27, 2013. The Commissioner replied to those objections on October 17, 2014. This matter has been fully briefed and is now ripe for the court's review.
B. Medical History
The court dispenses with a lengthy recitation of Jenkins' medical history and notes only the facts relevant to the court's review. Jenkins was 56 years old on his alleged disability onset date and 59 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. Jenkins has a degree in accounting. Tr. 24. Jenkins performed work in the past as a telemarketer, a car salesman, and an enumerator. Tr. 24-25.
Jenkins has had eczema his entire life. Tr. 30. Jenkins does not have any medical records prior to 2010. Tr. 31. On January 6, 2010, Dr. Lee Yarborough at Mt. Pleasant Dermatology treated Jenkins. Tr. 222-23. Jenkins reported that his skin condition was worsening, that he had had swollen glands for three to four months, and that he had received two steroid shots in the past. Tr. 222. Jenkins's wife reported that he had not been consistent with his treatment. Id . The doctor notice lichenified (thick and leathery) patches on Jenkins's skin and multiple papules on his face, arms, legs, and back. Id . The doctor diagnosed Jenkins with chronic contact or atopic dermatitis and prescribed him Bactim DS and Lidex cream. The doctor also took several biopsies that were reviewed in January 7, 2010, and determined to be superficial spongiotic psoriasiform dermatitis. Tr. 224. After reviewing the results of the biopsies, the doctor recommended Jenkins stay on his current treatment plan. Jenkins visited Mt. Pleasant Dermatology again on January 20, 2010 and reported that both his skin condition and the lymphadenopathy were improving. Tr. 220.
On April 15, 2010, Jenkins went to a dermatology appointment at the Medical University of South Carolina ("MUSC"). Tr. 230. Dr. Emily Kmetz noted Jenkins's long history of eczematous dermatitis and that Jenkins reported that his condition had worsened over the past four-to-five months. Id . Jenkins also reported that he had not tried any treatment recently but that creams had not been effective in the past. Id . Jenkins requested pain medication and the doctor noted previous steroid injections. Id . The doctor assessed Jenkins as having an eczema flare and swollen lymph nodes. Id . The doctor also noted that Jenkins had not been compliant with topical medication in the past and explained to Jenkins that consistency with topical treatments was necessary to avoid systemic steroids. Id . The doctor also explained appropriate bathing and moisturizing techniques and directed Jenkins to return in two weeks for a follow-up appointment. Id.
On October 16, 2010, Jenkins was seen at the MUSC emergency department complaining of eczema and leg swelling. Tr. 226-28. Treatment records note his history with atopic dermatitis and successful treatment with steroids. Jenkins was treated with a Medrol Dose Pack, Lortab, and Nasonex and was discharged in stable condition. Tr. 228. Jenkins was also referred to the East Cooper Cares Clinic. Id . Jenkins returned to the clinic and emergency department at MUSC on November 4, 2010 complaining of numbness in his fingers. Tr. 225. He reported that he was not currently suffering from symptoms but feared that he would have a stroke. Id . The medical provider noted his severe eczema. Id . Jenkins continued to see numerous dermatologists over the next year and a half. See Tr. 232-54. During each visit, he complained of his worsening skin condition, pain in his legs, and swollen lymph nodes. He was treated with steroids and topical medications.
C. ALJ's Findings
The Social Security Act defines "disability" 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 a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505. The Social Security regulations establish a fivestep sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Under this process, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant: (1) is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment which equals an illness contained in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1, which warrants a finding of disability without considering vocational factors; (4) if not, whether the claimant has an impairment which prevents him from performing past relevant work; and (5) if so, whether the claimant is able to perform other work considering both his remaining physical and mental capacities (defined by his residual functional capacity) and his vocational capabilities (age, education, and past work experience) to adjust to a new job. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264-65 (4th Cir. 1981). The claimant bears the burden of proof during the first four steps of the inquiry, while the burden shifts to the Commissioner for the final step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995) (citing Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 35 (4th Cir. 1992)).
At step one, the ALJ determined that Jenkins has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2009. Tr. 12. At step two, the ALJ determined that Jenkins has the following severe impairment: superficial spongiotic psoriasiform dermatitis. Id . At step three, the ALJ determined that Jenkins does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the impairments listed in the Agency's Listing of Impairments. Tr. 12-13; see 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Jenkins had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform less than full range of sedentary work as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a). Tr. 13. Specifically, the ALJ found that Jenkins could lift up to twenty pounds occasionally; sit for six hours and stand/walk for up to two hours in an eight-hour workday; occasionally use his lower extremities bilaterally for foot control; never climb ladders; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; and stoop, kneel, climb, and crawl. Id . The ALJ further determined that Jenkins should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat, wetness, and humidity and must avoid face-toface contact with the ...