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Wilson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division

December 21, 2015

Tabitha Marie Wilson, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

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 Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. 405(g)) to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.

ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

The plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") on October 18, 2012, alleging that she became unable to work on January 28, 2010. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. On October 21, 2013, the plaintiff requested a hearing. The administrative law judge ("ALJ"), before whom the plaintiff and her mother, Annetta Byers, appeared on May 14, 2014, considered the case de novo and, on June 12, 2014, 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 September 2, 2014. The plaintiff then filed this action for judicial review.

In making the determination that the plaintiff is not entitled to benefits, the Commissioner has adopted the following findings of the ALJ:

(1) Claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on September 30, 2015.
(2) Claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 28, 2010, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R §§ 404.1571 et seq ).
(3) Claimant had the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fibromyalgia, and obesity (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)).
(4) 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. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R §§ 404.1567(b) with some additional limitations. Specifically, claimant can lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can stand, walk, and sit for 6 hours each in an 8-hour day. Claimant is restricted from climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She occasionally can crawl and climb ramps and stairs. She frequently can stoop, kneel, and crouch. She frequently can handle and finger with her upper extremities. Claimant is limited to understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple instructions. She may have only rare public contact.
(6) Claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § 404.1565).
(7) Claimant was born on June 16, 1978, and was 31 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 C.F.R. § 404.1563).
(8) Claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. § 404.1564).
(9) Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because the Medical-Vocational Rules support a finding that the claimant is "not disabled, " whether or not claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
(10) Considering claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. § 404.1569 and 404.1569(a)).
(11) Claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 28, 2010, through the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f)).

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.

APPLICABLE LAW

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. § 404.1520. If an individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. § 404.1520(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 that the plaintiff can perform despite the existence of impairments that prevent the return to past relevant work by obtaining testimony from a vocational expert. Id.

The scope of judicial review by the federal courts in disability cases is narrowly tailored to determine whether the findings of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Consequently, the Act precludes a de novo review of the evidence and requires the court to uphold the Commissioner's decision as long as it is supported by substantial evidence. See Pyles v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 846, 848 (4th Cir. 1988) (citing Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986)). The phrase "supported by substantial evidence" is 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 a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is "substantial evidence."

Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966) (citation omitted).

Thus, it is the duty of this court to give careful scrutiny to the whole record to assure that there is a sound foundation for the Commissioner's findings and that the conclusion is rational. Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964). If there is substantial evidence to support the decision of the Commissioner, that decision must be affirmed. Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972).

EVIDENCE PRESENTED

The plaintiff was 31 years old on her alleged disability onset date and a few days away from her 36th birthday on the date of the ALJ's decision. The plaintiff has an eleventh grade education and received a GED (Tr. 179) and has past relevant work experience as a ...


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