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Tyler v. Colvin

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

March 31, 2016

Dana Dukes Tyler, 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 Civil 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).[1]

         The plaintiff brought this action pursuant to Sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act.

         ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         The plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on September 2, 2011. On the same date, he also protectively filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. In both applications, he alleged disability beginning August 1, 2011. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. The plaintiff requested a hearing. An initial hearing was held on March 20, 2013, at which the plaintiff, his attorney, and an impartial vocational expert, Jacqueline Merritt, appeared. A supplemental hearing was held on October 16, 2013, at which the plaintiff, his attorney, and an impartial vocational expert, Carey A. Washington, also appeared. The administrative law judge ("ALJ") considered the case de novo and on November 8, 2013, 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 review on December 24, 2014.

         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, 416.920. If an individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(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 which the plaintiff can perform despite the existence of impairments which 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 born on January 13, 1971 (Tr. 98). He has a GED and past work history as an assembler, a line truck operator, and a tractor operator on a farm (Tr. 257). He alleges that he became disabled to work on August 1, 2011, due to depression, temper disorder, mood swings, audio hallucinations, carpal tunnel, body shakes, and poor eyesight (Tr. 256).

          Aiken Barnwell Mental Health

         On March 17, 2009, the plaintiff requested help with his mood and anger symptoms. His history included two admissions to Aurora Pavilion Behavioral Health Services ("Aurora") (December 2006 and January 2007) (Tr. 369-70). After an admission to Aurora, the plaintiff was seen on September 7, 2011. He was easily distracted, exhibited psychomotor agitation, and reported severe mood swings. The plaintiff experienced audio and visual ...


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