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Baker v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

February 9, 2016

Robin Amy Baker, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



This social security matter is before the court pursuant to Local Civil Rule 83.VII.02 (D.S.C.) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) for final adjudication, with the consent of the parties, of the plaintiff’s petition for judicial review. The plaintiff, Robin Amy Baker, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the defendant, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying her claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Having carefully considered the parties’ submissions and the applicable law, the court concludes that the Commissioner’s decision should be affirmed.


Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) and (d)(5), as well as pursuant to the regulations formulated by the Commissioner, the plaintiff has the burden of proving disability, which is defined as an “inability to do 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.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a); see also Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773 (4th Cir. 1973). The regulations require the ALJ to consider, in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity;
(2) whether the claimant has a “severe” impairment;
(3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“the Listings”), and is thus presumptively disabled;
(4) whether the claimant can perform her past relevant work; and
  1. whether the claimant’s impairments prevent her from doing any other kind of work.

20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).[1] If the ALJ can make a determination that a claimant is or is not disabled at any point in this process, review does not proceed to the next step. Id.

Under this analysis, a claimant has the initial burden of showing that she is unable to return to her past relevant work because of her impairments. Once the claimant establishes a prima facie case of disability, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. To satisfy this burden, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant has the residual functional capacity, considering the claimant’s age, education, work experience, and impairments, to perform alternative jobs that exist in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); see also McLain v. Schweiker, 715 F.2d 866, 868-69 (4th Cir. 1983); Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264-65 (4th Cir. 1981); Wilson v. Califano, 617 F.2d 1050, 1053 (4th Cir. 1980). The Commissioner may carry this burden by obtaining testimony from a vocational expert. Grant v. Schweiker, 699 F.2d 189, 192 (4th Cir. 1983).


In September 2011, Baker applied for DIB, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2003.[2]Baker’s application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). A hearing was held on April 25, 2013, at which Baker, who was represented by Todd J. Johnson, Esquire, appeared and testified. After hearing testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ issued a decision on April 30, 2013 finding that Baker was not disabled. (Tr. 19-29.)

Baker was born in 1966 and was thirty-eight years old on her date last insured. (Tr. 28.) She has a college education and has past relevant work experience as a registered nurse. (Tr. 131.) Baker alleged disability due to severe depression, anxiety, panic attacks, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, shortness of breath, and weight gain. (Tr. 130.)

In applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found that Baker had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from her amended alleged onset date of October 14, 2004 through her date last insured of December 31, 2004. The ALJ also determined that Baker’s major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder were severe impairments. However, the ALJ found that, through her date last insured, Baker did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”). The ALJ further found that, through her date last insured, Baker retained the residual functional capacity to

perform a full range of work at all exertional levels. However, the claimant was limited to unskilled, low-stress work with no fast-paced production requirement and with only occasional changes in the work-setting and occasional decision making. Additionally, the claimant was limited to occasional interaction with the public and coworkers.

(Tr. 23.) The ALJ found that, through her date last insured, Baker was unable to perform any past relevant work, but that considering Baker’s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Baker could have performed. Therefore, the ALJ found that Baker was not disabled during the relevant time period.

The Appeals Council denied Baker’s request for review on October 1, 2014, making the decision of the ALJ the final action of the ...

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