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Bennett v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

November 15, 2016

BRENDA BROWN BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          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) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)[1] on March 19, 2012 (protective date), alleging disability as of May 1, 2010, due to interstitial cystitis and bad knee.[2] (R.p. 213-226, 269). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, as well as by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) after a hearing, in a decision issued July 8, 2014. (R.pp. 11-25). Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, and 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 therefore be reversed and 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).

         Discussion

         A review of the record shows that Plaintiff, who was forty-three (43) years old on her alleged disability onset date, completed her education at least through the eleventh grade, received a GED, and has obtained a nursing assistant certification. She has past relevant work experience as a cashier, cook, a housekeeper, and a general laborer in the laundry business. (R.pp. 37, 269-270). 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 this case, the ALJ determined that, although Plaintiff does suffer from the “severe” impairments[3] of osteoarthritis of the right knee, an affective disorder, interstitial cystitis, and obesity, she nevertheless retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work, [4] with the following additional limitations: requiring a cane for ambulation; no operation of foot pedals; no climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; no kneeling, crawling, or crouching; no more than occasional climbing of stairs, balancing, and stooping; avoid all exposure to vibration, heights, and dangerous machinery; requirement of ready access to bathroom facilities; and limited to simple work with no contact with the public as customers. (R.pp. 16, 18). The ALJ further determined that, although the limitations caused by Plaintiff's impairments precluded her from performing her past relevant work, she could perform other representative occupations such as an address clerk and a sample weight tester with these limitations, and was therefore not entitled to disability benefits. (R.p. 24).

         Plaintiff asserts in reaching this decision the ALJ erred by performing a faulty RFC analysis, failing to properly evaluate Plaintiff's obesity pursuant to SSR 02-1p, failing to properly resolve the issue of Plaintiff's ability to do substantial work in significant numbers (specifically with respect to Plaintiff needing a cane to ambulate), and failing to properly evaluate Plaintiff's credibility. After careful review and consideration of the record and arguments from the parties, the undersigned is constrained to agree with the Plaintiff that the ALJ's RFC analysis was flawed, and that the decision must therefore be reversed and remanded for further consideration of Plaintiff's claims.

         With respect to Plaintiff's mental impairment, the medical evidence reflects that on June 2, 2012, J. P. Ginsberg, PhD, opined that Plaintiff suffered from major depression with psychosis and probable traumatic stress. (R.p. 611). Leslie Burke, PhD, found that Plaintiff had moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence, or pace on July 19, 2012. (R.p.87). On August 6, 2012, Dr. James Key found insufficient evidence of difficulties in Plaintiff's concentration, persistence, or pace. (R.p. 73). However, when Plaintiff presented to Eau Claire Behavioral Medicine in October 2012, she was assessed with depression, recurrent with psychotic features, ...


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