United States District Court, D. South Carolina
Jacquelyn D. Austin United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the Court for a final Order pursuant to
Local Civil Rules 73.02(B)(1) and 83.VII.02, D.S.C.; 28
U.S.C. § 636(c); the parties’ consent to
disposition by a magistrate judge [Doc. 6]; and the Honorable
J. Michelle Childs’s January 15, 2016 Order of
reference [Doc. 23]. Plaintiff 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 Commissioner of
Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying
Plaintiff’s claim for supplemental security income
(“SSI”). For the reasons set forth below, the
decision of the Commissioner is reversed and remanded for
administrative action consistent with this Order, pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
March 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging
disability beginning December 1, 2008. [R. 158-63.] The
claim was denied initially and on reconsideration by the
Social Security Administration (“the
Administration”). [R. 104-08, 114-16.] Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) and on October 24, 2013, ALJ Frances W.
Williams conducted a hearing on Plaintiff’s claims. [R.
issued a decision on December 12, 2013, finding Plaintiff not
disabled. [R. 9- 24.] At Step 1,  the ALJ found Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 22,
2012, the application date. [R. 14, Finding 1.] At Step 2,
the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
depression, anxiety, personality disorder, and mild
contractures of the two fingers of the left non-dominant
hand. [R. 14, Finding 2.] The ALJ also found Plaintiff had a
history of a right ankle fracture in 2007. [R. 14.] At Step
3, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one
of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. [R. 15, Finding 3.] The ALJ specifically
considered Listings 1.02, 12.04, 12.06, and 12.08. [R.
addressing Step 4, Plaintiff’s ability to perform his
past relevant work, the ALJ found Plaintiff retained the
following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that
the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
medium work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c). Specifically,
the claimant is able to lift and carry up to 50 pounds
occasionally and 25 pounds frequently. The claimant can
perform frequent, not constant, fingering with the left
non-dominant hand. The claimant is limited to unskilled work
with no direct interaction with the public and only
occasional team type interaction with co-workers.
[R. 16, Finding 4.] At Step 4, the ALJ noted Plaintiff was
unable to perform his past relevant work as a carpenter [R.
20, Finding 5]; but based on his age, education, RFC, and the
testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), there
were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform [R. 20, Finding 9]. On
this basis, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not been under a
disability as defined by the Act since March 22, 2012, the
date the application was filed. [R. 21, Finding 10.]
requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ’s decision
but the Council declined review. [R. 1-6.] Plaintiff filed
this action for judicial review on May 5, 2015. [Doc. 1.]
contends the ALJ’s decision is not supported by
substantial evidence and that remand is necessary for the
1. The ALJ failed to properly evaluate the testimony of
Plaintiff’s mother [Doc. 16 at 8-11];
2. The ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion of
Plaintiff’s treating psychiatrist regarding
Plaintiff’s ability to work as set forth in his GAF
scores [id. at 11-15];
3. The jobs identified by the VE in response to the
ALJ’s hypothetical are precluded by nonexertional
limitations included in the hypothetical [id. at
4. The ALJ erred in finding Plaintiff’s ankle fracture
was “not severe” [id. at 16-18].
Commissioner, on the other hand, contends the ALJ’s
decision is supported by substantial evidence and that:
1. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s credibility
determination including the ALJ’s consideration of lay
testimony and the side effects of Plaintiff’s
medications [Doc. 17 at 13- 19];
2. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s evaluation
of the treating physician’s GAF scores [id. At
3. Substantial evidence supports the hypothetical proffered
to the VE [id. at 23-27]; and
4. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s
determination at Step Two where Plaintiff failed to prove
that his right ankle limited his basic work activities
[id. at 27-30].
Commissioner’s findings of fact are conclusive if
supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla-i.e., the
evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the
existence of a fact and must include such relevant evidence
as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support
the conclusion. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v.
NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966) (citing
Woolridge v. Celebrezze, 214 F.Supp. 686, 687 (S.D.
W.Va. 1963)) (“Substantial evidence, it has been held,
is 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
conflicting evidence “allows reasonable minds to differ
as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for
that decision falls on the [Commissioner] (or the
[Commissioner’s] designate, the ALJ), ” not on
the reviewing court. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585,
589 (4th Cir. 1996); see also Edwards v. Sullivan,
937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991) (stating that where
the Commissioner’s decision is supported by substantial
evidence, the court will affirm, even if the reviewer would
have reached a contrary result as finder of fact and even if
the reviewer finds that the evidence preponderates against
the Commissioner’s decision). Thus, it is not within
the province of a reviewing court to determine the weight of
the evidence, nor is it the court’s function to
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner so long
as the decision is supported by substantial evidence. See
Bird v. Commissioner, 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012);
Laws, 368 F.2d at 642; Snyder v. Ribicoff,
307 F.2d 518, 520 (4th Cir. 1962).
reviewing court will reverse the Commissioner’s
decision on plenary review, however, if the decision applies
incorrect law or fails to provide the court with sufficient
reasoning to determine that the Commissioner properly applied
the law. Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982 (4th
Cir. 1980); see also Keeton v. Dep’t of Health
& Human Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994).
Where the Commissioner’s decision “is in clear
disregard of the overwhelming weight of the evidence,
Congress has empowered the courts to modify or reverse the
[Commissioner’s] decision ‘with or without
remanding the cause for a rehearing.’” Vitek
v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157, 1158 (4th Cir. 1971) (quoting
42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Remand is unnecessary where
“the record does not contain substantial evidence to
support a decision denying coverage under the correct legal
standard and when reopening the record for more evidence
would serve no purpose.” Breeden v.
Weinberger, 493 F.2d 1002, 1012 (4th Cir. 1974).
court may remand a case to the Commissioner for a rehearing
under sentence four or sentence six of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Sargent v. Sullivan, 941 F.2d 1207 (4th Cir.
1991) (unpublished table decision). To remand under sentence
four, the reviewing court must find either that the
Commissioner’s decision is not supported by substantial
evidence or that the Commissioner incorrectly applied the law
relevant to the disability claim. See, e.g.,
Jackson v. Chater, 99 F.3d 1086, 1090-91 (11th Cir.
1996) (holding remand was appropriate where the ALJ failed to
develop a full and fair record of the claimant’s
residual functional capacity); Brehem v. Harris, 621
F.2d 688, 690 (5th Cir. 1980) (holding remand was appropriate
where record was insufficient to affirm but was also
insufficient for court to find the claimant disabled). Where
the court cannot discern the basis for the
Commissioner’s decision, a remand under sentence four
is usually the proper course to allow the Commissioner to
explain the basis for the decision or for additional
investigation. See Radford v. Commissioner, 734 F.3d
288, 295 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Florida Power &
Light Co. v. Lorion, 470 U.S. 729, 744 (1985);see
also Smith v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1176, 1181-82 (4th Cir.
1986) (remanding case where decision of ALJ contained
“a gap in its reasoning” because ALJ did not say
he was discounting testimony or why); Gordon v.
Schweiker, 725 F.2d 231, 235 (4th Cir. 1984) (remanding
case where neither the ALJ nor the Appeals Council indicated
the weight given to relevant evidence). On remand under
sentence four, ...