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Malachi v. Colvin

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

January 25, 2016

Shequita L. Malachi, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MARY GORDON BAKER, Magistrate Judge.

         This case is before the Court for a report and recommendation pursuant to Local 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).

         The Plaintiff, Shequita L. Malachi, brought this action pursuant to Section 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") regarding her claim for supplemental security income benefits ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, as amended (the "Act").

         RELEVANT FACTS AND ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         The Plaintiff was 32 years old on the date she applied for supplemental security income. (R. at 19.) She alleged disability beginning on April 1, 2010, due to hypertension, right knee arthritis, bronchitis, obesity, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. (R. at 9, 11.) Plaintiff has an associate's degree and past relevant work as a cashier, assembler, and UPC labeler. (R. at 33, 59-60.

         The Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on September 20, 2010. (R. at 9.) Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (R. at 9.) After a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on February 14, 2013, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on March 27, 2013. (R. at 9-20.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, (R. at 1-3), making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of 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) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 20, 2010, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq. ).
(2) The claimant has the following severe impairments: hypertension, right knee arthritis, bronchitis, obesity, anxiety, and bipolar disorder (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
(3) 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 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
(4) After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) in that she can lift and carry up to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; stand and/or walk for about two hours in a workday; and sit for about six hours in a workday. She must be allowed to alternate sitting and standing at the workstation at intervals of thirty to forty-five minutes. She can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and climb stairs or ramps but never crawl or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can only occasionally operate foot pedals or other controls with her right lower extremity. She must avoid concentrated exposure to extremes of temperature and humidity and concentrated exposure to dust, fumes, gases, odors, and other respiratory irritants. She must avoid hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. Due to her mental impairments, she is further restricted to unskilled work involving no more than occasional interaction with the public.
(5) The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a UPC labeler. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 416.965).
(6) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since September 20, 2010, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(f)).

         APPLICABLE LAW

         The Act provides that SSI disability benefits shall be available for aged, blind, or disabled persons who have income and resources below a specific amount. 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et. seq.; 20 C.F.R. § 416.110. "Disability" is defined in the Act 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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).

         To facilitate a uniform and efficient processing of disability claims, the 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 which equals an illness contained in the Administration's official Listing of Impairments found at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) has an impairment which prevents past relevant work; and (5) has an impairment which prevents him from doing substantial gainful employment. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. If an individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. Id .; see also Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264 (4th Cir. 1981). The plaintiff "bears the burden of production and proof during the first four steps of the inquiry." Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). If the plaintiff "is able to carry this burden through the fourth step, the burden shifts to the Secretary in the fifth step to show that other work is available in the national economy which the claimant could perform." Id. at 1203.

         The scope of judicial review by the federal courts in disability cases is "limited to determining whether the findings of the Secretary are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied." Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); see also Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971). 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. Pyles v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 846, 848 (4th Cir. 1988) ( citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986)). The phrase "substantial evidence" is defined as:

such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Substantial evidence consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be less than a preponderance.

Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 637-38 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal quotation marks and citations 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 his 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).

         DISCUSSION

         The Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in failing to find her disabled. More specifically, the Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred in failing to comply with Social Security Ruling 82-62 because the ALJ failed to provide "specific findings or analysis regarding the mental demands" of Plaintiff's past relevant work." (Dkt. No. 13 at 23 of 30.) Plaintiff also contends the ALJ erred in failing "to formulate" a residual functional capacity ("RFC") "assessment that encompassed all of the Plaintiff's impairments and limitations" and failed to evaluate Plaintiff's obesity pursuant to Social Security Ruling 02-01p. (Dkt. No. 13 at 26-27 of 30.) Finally, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred in "fail[ing] to follow [the] requirements of ...


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