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Harris v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

November 8, 2016



          Bristow Marchant United States Magistrate Judge

         The Plaintiff filed the complaint in this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner wherein she was denied disability benefits. This case was referred to the undersigned for a report and recommendation pursuant to Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), (D.S.C.).

         Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on July 5, 2012 (protective filing date), alleging disability as of October 19, 2011, due to pulmonary embolisms, panic attacks, anxiety, PTSD, and agoraphobia. (R.p. 173-178, 197). Plaintiff's claim for DIB was denied initially and upon reconsideration, as well as by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in a decision issued August 4, 2014. (R.pp. 13-25). Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review of the ALJ's decision, thereby making the determination of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R.pp. 1-3).

         Plaintiff then filed this action in United States District Court, asserting that there is not substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision, and that the decision should be reversed and/or remanded for further consideration. The Commissioner contends that the decision to deny benefits is supported by substantial evidence, and that Plaintiff was properly found not to be disabled.

         Scope of review

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court's scope of review is limited to (1) whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the ultimate conclusions reached by the Commissioner are legally correct under controlling law. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); Richardson v. Califano, 574 F.2d 802, 803 (4th Cir. 1978); Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982-983 (4th Cir. 1980). If the record contains substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision, it is the court's duty to affirm the decision.

         Substantial evidence has been 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 refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is “substantial evidence.” [emphasis added].

Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (citing Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966)); see also, Hepp v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 798, 806 (8th cir. 2008)[Noting that the substantial evidence standard is even “less demanding than the preponderance of the evidence standard”].

         The Court lacks the authority to substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Laws, 368 F.2d at 642. "[T]he language of [405(g)] precludes a de novo judicial proceeding and requires that the court uphold the [Commissioner's] decision even should the court disagree with such decision as long as it is supported by substantial evidence." Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972).


         A review of the record shows that Plaintiff, who was forty-six (46) years old on her alleged onset date, has four or more years of college and past relevant work experience as a teacher, a university registrar, a director of technology, and a computer instructor. (R.pp. 34, 78, 198). In order to be considered "disabled" within the meaning of the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must show that she has an impairment or combination of impairments which prevent her from engaging in all substantial gainful activity for which she is qualified by her age, education, experience and functional capacity, and which has lasted or could reasonably be expected to last for at least twelve (12) consecutive months.

         After review of the evidence and testimony in this case, the ALJ determined that although Plaintiff does suffer from the “severe” impairments[1] of migraine headaches and anxiety, she nevertheless retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following nonexertional limitations: the performance of only simple, routine, repetitive tasks with no ongoing interaction with the public, and only work in an uncrowded setting with no close coordination with coworkers. (R.p. 20). The ALJ further determined that while the limitations caused by Plaintiff's impairments precluded her from performing her past relevant work, she could perform other representative occupations such as janitor, cleaner, and surveillance system monitor with these limitations, and was therefore not disabled. (R.p. 25).

         Plaintiff asserts that in reaching this decision, the ALJ erred by not providing a rationale for how he determined Plaintiff's RFC, and by improperly evaluating and rejecting the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Jeffrey Jennings. After careful review and consideration of the record and arguments presented, the undersigned is constrained to agree with the Plaintiff that the ALJ failed to properly account for the restrictions ...

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