United States District Court, D. South Carolina
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Bristow Marchant United States Magistrate Judge
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.).
applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in September 2006, alleging
disability since August 1, 2001 due to Hepatitis C,
headaches, seizures, and a learning disability. (R.pp.
101-109, 133). Plaintiff's applications were denied
initially and upon reconsideration, as well as by an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) after a hearing. (R.pp. 8-43).
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review, following which Plaintiff filed suit in this United
States District Court. Haselden v. Astrue, C.A. No.
9:10-545. The decision of the Commissioner was thereafter
reversed and remanded by this Court, following which the
Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and sent the
case back to the ALJ for further proceedings. (R.pp.
423-432). The ALJ then held a second hearing on October 8,
2011, following which he issued a decision on January 27,
2012, again finding that Plaintiff was not disabled and
denying Plaintiff's claims. (R.pp. 362-407).
Appeals Council review upholding this decision, Plaintiff
again filed suit in United States District Court.
Haselden v. Colvin, C. A. No. 9:12-872. The decision
of the Commissioner was thereafter again reversed and
remanded by this Court for a determination of whether
Plaintiff met the requirements for disability of Listing
12.05C. The Appeals Counsel then sent the matter
to a different ALJ for further proceedings, following which
another hearing was held on July 25, 2014. (R.pp. 611-647,
694). This new ALJ thereafter denied Plaintiff's claims
in a decision issued August 28, 2014. (R.pp. 599-610). The
Appeals Counsel denied Plaintiff's appeal of this
decision, thereby making the August 2014 decision of the ALJ
the final decision of the Commissioner. (R.pp. 587-592).
then filed this action in this 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 remanded for an outright award of benefits. The
Commissioner contends that the decision to deny benefits is
supported by substantial evidence, and that Plaintiff was
properly found not to be disabled.
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.
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”].
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).
review of the record shows that Plaintiff, who was
forty-three (43) years old on August 1, 2001 (when she
alleges she became disabled), has a marginal
education with past relevant work experience as a
dock worker, security guard, and cleaner. (R.pp. 101, 146,
199-204). 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 a review of the evidence and
testimony in the case, the ALJ determined that, although
Plaintiff does suffer from the “severe”
impairments of borderline intelligence and a seizure
disorder, she nevertheless retained the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform work at all exertional levels,
limited to work that requires only simple repetitive tasks
without ongoing interaction with the general public and no
exposure to work hazards. (R.pp. 602, 605). The ALJ further
determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past
relevant work as a hand packer with these limitations as well
as other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy, and that Plaintiff is therefore not
entitled to disability benefits. (R.pp. 608-610).
asserts that in reaching this decision, the ALJ erred by
performing a faulty listing analysis, and by improperly
considering and evaluating the subjective testimony as to the
extent of Plaintiff's limitations. Plaintiff further
argues that the additional evidence submitted to the Appeals
Counsel was not properly considered. After careful review and
consideration of the record in this case and the arguments
from the parties, the undersigned is constrained to agree
with the Plaintiff that the decision must be reversed. Even
so, as is set forth hereinbelow, Plaintiff is not entitled to
a remand for an award of benefits at this time.
applications have proceeded through a convoluted claim
decision history, which includes (as previously noted) two
previous remands from this Court back to the Commissioner for
further proceedings. Plaintiff's applications were
originally denied at the administrative level, both initially
and upon reconsideration, as well as by an ALJ after a
hearing and by the Appeals Council on review. However, on
appeal to this Court the undersigned recommended reversal of
the decision with remand for the purpose of obtaining
vocational expert testimony to establish whether Plaintiff
could perform other work with her non-exertional limitations,
a recommendation that was adopted (as modified) by the
District Judge. (R.pp. 424-429). Following a second hearing
on her applications, Plaintiff's claims were again denied
both by the ALJ as well as by the Appeals Council. Plaintiff
again appealed to this Court, but after a review of the
record and decision the undersigned this time concluded that
the decision was supported by substantial evidence in the
case record and recommended that the decision be affirmed.
(R.pp. 675-691). However, the District Judge concluded on
de novo review that the ALJ had erred in evaluating
whether Plaintiff met the Paragraph C requirements of Listing
12.05, and had failed to adequately explain his consideration
of evidence that might support a finding of deficits in
adaptive functioning in the Listing 12.05C analysis, and
therefore again reversed and remanded the administrative
decision. (R.pp. 667-674).
result of that remand order, Plaintiff has now gone through
the administrative process a third time, this time before a
different ALJ, who after a hearing again concluded that
Plaintiff is not disabled for purposes of either DIB or SSI,
a decision which the Appeals Council has again upheld. As
before, Plaintiff has appealed the denial of her applications
to this United States District Court. In her appeal,
Plaintiff continues to fault the ALJ's listing analysis,
while also arguing that the Appeals Council did not properly
consider new evidence that was submitted to it as part of
Plaintiff's appeal of the ALJ's
decision. While the undersigned certainly agrees
with the Plaintiff, as well as the Defendant, that it is time
to bring some finality to these applications, the undersigned
is bound by Fourth Circuit precedent with respect to how such
claims are to be reviewed. These precedents unfortunately
require yet another reversal with a remand of Plaintiff's
applications, all as is more fully set forth below.
Evidence Submitted to ...