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Gaines v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

February 19, 2016

Cynthia M. Gaines, 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, Cynthia M. Gaines, 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”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Having carefully considered the parties’ submissions and the applicable law, the court concludes that the Commissioner’s decision should be reversed and that the case should be remanded to the Commissioner for further administrative action.


Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), (d)(5) and § 1382c(a)(3)(H)(i), 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), 416.905(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
(5) whether the claimant’s impairments prevent her from doing any other kind of work.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(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), 1382c(a)(3)(A)-(B); 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 January 2012, Gaines applied for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning April 7, 2000.[2] Gaines’s applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). A hearing was held on October 31, 2013, at which Gaines, who was represented by J. Leeds Barroll, IV, Esquire, appeared and testified. After hearing testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ issued a decision on December 30, 2013 concluding that Gaines was not disabled. (Tr. 11-22.)

Gaines was born in 1967 and was forty-five years old at the time of her amended alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 203.) She has a high school education and has past relevant work experience as a cashier/greeter/bagger at a grocery store and a store associate/stocker. (Tr. 237.) Gaines alleged disability due to a heel spur, depressive anxiety disorder, cerebral palsy, asthma, and numbness in both legs. (Tr. 236.)

In applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found that Gaines had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 18, 2012-her amended alleged onset date. The ALJ also determined that Gaines’s obesity; residual effects of cerebral palsy; and residual effects of foot problems, including heel spurs and hammertoes, were severe impairments. However, the ALJ found that Gaines 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 Gaines retained the residual functional capacity to

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except for the following limitations: no required interaction with the public or “team”-type interaction with co-workers; no carrying over 10 pounds; no standing and/or walking over two hours in an eight-hour workday; no more than occasional stooping, twisting, crouching, kneeling, crawling, balancing, or climbing of stairs or ramps; no climbing of ladders or scaffolds; no foot pedals or other controls ...

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