United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division
DAVID C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McDonald’s Report and Recommendation (R&R) that the court affirm the Commissioner’s decision denying plaintiff Ricky Eugene Brown’s (“Brown”) application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Brown filed objections to the R&R. For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the magistrate judge’s R&R and affirms the Commissioner’s decision.
Unless otherwise noted, the following background is drawn from the R&R.
Brown initially filed for DIB on August 13, 2008 alleging an onset of disability date of July 19, 2006. Tr. 18. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Brown’s claims initially on January 21, 2009 and upon reconsideration on October 5, 2009. Tr. 18. On December 17, 2009, Brown filed a written request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and on August 23, 2010, ALJ Gregory M. Wilson conducted a de novo hearing on Brown’s claims. Tr. 18.
The ALJ issued his decision on September 30, 2010, finding that Brown was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Tr. 18-29. Brown requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ’s decision, Tr. 10-11, and submitted additional evidence to the Council. Tr. 4-7. The Appeals Council declined to review the decision, making the ALJ’s decision the final, reviewable decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-3. The ALJ’s finding became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Brown’s request for review on May 10, 2011. Brown appealed the ALJ’s decision and obtained an order of remand on July 24, 2012. Tr. 517-47, 548-49. See Brown v. Astrue, No. 6:11-cv-1500-MBS-KFM, 2012 WL 3029654 (D.S.C. July 24, 2012). Upon remand, the Appeals Council directed the ALJ to
Evaluate and consider the objective evidence from Mr. Adams’[s] assessment of the plaintiff’s ability to perform fine manipulation with his hands and fingers.
Reevaluate the prior finding regarding the weight given to the opinion of Dr. Tollison in light of the newly produced evidence.
Evaluate and weigh the newly produced evidence from Drs. Worsham and Tollison and to reevaluate and weigh the prior opinions of vocational evaluator Mr. Adams and Dr. Tollison.
Should the ALJ’s analysis upon remand continue to Step 5 of the sequential evaluation, obtain additional vocational expert testimony and provide the expert with proper hypothetical questions setting out all of the plaintiff’s impairments.
Tr. 550-52, 517-47, 548-49.
On May 29, 2013, Brown and Dr. Alfred Jonas (“Dr. Jonas”), an impartial medical expert, and Karl S. Weldon, an impartial vocational expert, appeared at a hearing before the same ALJ in Greenville, South Carolina. On February 20, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Brown was not under a disability as defined in the SSA. Tr. 417-41. The ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Brown’s request for review on September 30, 2013. Tr. 389-92. Brown filed this action on November 21, 2014.
The magistrate judge issued an R&R on January 29, 2016, recommending that the ALJ’s decision be affirmed. On February 17, 2016, Brown filed objections to the R&R, to which the Commissioner replied on February 24, 2016.
B. Brown’s Medical History
Brown was forty-two years old on his alleged disability onset date of July 19, 2006 and was forty-seven years old on his date last insured, June 30, 2011. Brown completed the eighth grade and later obtained a GED and an associate’s degree in industrial mechanics. Tr. 453-54. Brown has past relevant work experience as a millwright and maintenance worker. Tr. 440.
The court adopts the R&R’s comprehensive description of Brown’s medical history. Because the question at hand is whether the ALJ properly evaluated the opinions of the treating physicians, and because neither party contests the magistrate judge’s outline of Brown’s medical history, the court will dispense with a lengthy recitation of thereof.
C. ALJ’s Findings
The Social Security Act defines “disability” 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505. The Social Security regulations establish a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Under this process, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant: (1) is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment which equals an illness contained in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App’x 1, which warrants a finding of disability without considering vocational factors; (4) if not, whether the claimant has an impairment which prevents him or her from performing past relevant work; and (5) if so, whether the claimant is able to perform other work considering both his or her remaining physical and mental capacities (defined by his or her residual functional capacity) and his or her vocational capabilities (age, education, and past work experience) to adjust to a new job. See 20 ...