United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division
REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE
KEVIN F. McDONALD, 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).
The plaintiff 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 her claims for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.
The plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits on February 10, 2006, alleging that she became unable to work on August 12, 1999. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. On December 26, 2006, the plaintiff requested a hearing. At the hearing, the plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to February 10, 2006, and withdrew her application for DIB. The administrative law judge ("ALJ"), before whom the plaintiff and Arthur F. Schmitt, Ph.D., an impartial vocational expert, appeared on August 26, 2008, considered the case de novo, and on September 22, 2008, found that the plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, as amended. 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 March 11, 2011.
The plaintiff filed an action for judicial review on May 12, 2011. On April 20, 2012, the defendant moved this court to enter a judgment with an order of reversal and remand of the cause to the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings. The case was remanded on May 22, 2012, and, pursuant to the district court's remand order, the Appeals Council directed the ALJ to: (1) further consider the plaintiff's RFC, (2) reevaluate the medical opinions of record, (3) if warranted, obtain additional VE testimony, (4) offer the plaintiff the opportunity for another hearing, and (5) issue a new decision (Tr. 479-80).
On February 1, 2013, a different ALJ held an administrative hearing during which the plaintiff and John S. Wilson, an impartial vocational expert, testified (Tr. 431-52). On April 25, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding the plaintiff was not disabled under the Act (Tr. 414-30). On June 24, 2014, the ALJ's finding became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security when it was approved by the Appeals Council. This appeal followed.
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, 2003.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 12, 1999, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R § 416.971 et seq. ).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairment: cervical radiculopathy (20 C.F.R. § 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. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to: sit, stand, and walk each for 6 hours of an 8-hour day; frequently lift/carry 10 pounds; occasionally lift 20 pounds; never climb or crawl; occasionally perform overhead reaching; and never be exposed to hazards. She would also require a sit/stand option at will.
(6) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § 416.965).
(7) The claimant was born on October 1, 1959, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date. The claimant subsequently changed age category to closely approaching advanced age (20 C.F.R. § 416.963).
(8) The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. § 416.964).
(9) Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled, " whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
(10) Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could have performed (20 C.F.R. § 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
(11) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined the Social Security Act, from August 12, 1999, through the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)).
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.
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. § 416.920. If an individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. § 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 ...