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Scott v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

April 1, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


BRISTOW MARCHANT, Magistrate Judge.

The Plaintiff filed the complaint in this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner wherein she was denied disability benefits. This case was referred to the undersigned for a report and recommendation pursuant to Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a)(D.S.C.).

Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)[1] on August 11, 2011 (protective filing date), alleging disability beginning August 11, 2011 due to bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and back problems. (R.pp. 15, 69, 259). Subsequently, on September 9, 2011, Plaintiff applied for Child's Insurance Benefits (CIB). (R.pp. 15, 59, 195).[2] Plaintiff's claims were denied both initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on August 29, 2012. (R.pp. 32-55). The ALJ thereafter denied Plaintiff's claims in a decision issued October 10, 2012. (R.pp. 15-25). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review of the ALJ's decision, thereby making the determination of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R.pp. 1-4).

Plaintiff then filed this action in United States District Court, asserting that there is not substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision, and that the decision should be reversed and remanded for an award of benefits or, in the alternative, for additional administrative proceedings. The Commissioner contends that the decision to deny benefits is supported by substantial evidence, and that Plaintiff was properly found not to be disabled.

Scope of review

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court's scope of review is limited to (1) whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the ultimate conclusions reached by the Commissioner are legally correct under controlling law. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); Richardson v. Califano, 574 F.2d 802, 803 (4th Cir. 1978); Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982-983 (4th Cir. 1980). If the record contains substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision, it is the court's duty to affirm the decision. Substantial evidence has been defined as:

evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance. If there is evidence to justify refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is "substantial evidence." [emphasis added].

Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (citing Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966)).

The Court lacks the authority to substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Laws, 368 F.2d at 642. "[T]he language of [405(g)] precludes a de novo judicial proceeding and requires that the court 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).

Case History

A review of the record shows that Plaintiff was only eighteen (18) years old on her alleged disability onset date. She has no past relevant work experience. (R.pp. 17, 23, 36). With respect to her education, the ALJ made a finding that Plaintiff has at least a high school education (R.p. 23), although Plaintiff testified that she only obtained a certificate of attendance after completing high school during which she took special education classes "most" of the time (R.pp. 36-37, 43). In order to be considered "disabled" within the meaning of the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must show that she has an impairment or combination of impairments which prevent her from engaging in all substantial gainful activity for which she is qualified by her age, education, experience and functional capacity, and which has lasted or could reasonably be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve (12) months.

After a review of the evidence and testimony in the case, the ALJ determined that, although Plaintiff does suffer from the "severe" impairments[3] of an organic mental disorder and an affective disorder (R.p. 17), she nevertheless retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) for a full range of work at all exertional levels with the nonexertional limitations of simple, repetitive tasks with no direct customer service; occasional changes in work settings in a no fast-paced production environment; and a restriction from work requiring good reading or writing skills. (R.p. 20). The ALJ then obtained testimony from a vocational expert (VE) and found at step five that Plaintiff could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy with these limitations, and was therefore not disabled during the time period at issue. (R.pp. 23-24).

Plaintiff asserts that in reaching this decision, the ALJ erred at step 3 of the sequential evaluation procedure by not finding that her impairment or combination of impairments is of a severity to meet or medically equal the criteria for Listing 12.05C;[4] that the Appeals Council erred by failing to consider the new and material evidence Plaintiff submitted in support of her applications; that the ALJ erred in finding that she has at least a high school education; and that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence at step 5 because the hypothetical to the VE failed to include all of her impairments. After careful review and consideration of the evidence and arguments presented, the undersigned is constrained to agree with Plaintiff that ...

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