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Praylow v. Berryhill

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

February 21, 2017

Ralph Praylow, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Timothy M. Cain United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, Ralph Praylow, Jr. (“Praylow”), brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (“SSA”).[1] This matter is before the court for review of the Report and Recommendation (“Report”) of the United States Magistrate Judge, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C. (ECF No. 17).[2] In his Report, the magistrate judge recommends that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed. Plaintiff filed objections (ECF No. 19), and the Commissioner filed a reply (ECF No. 21). This matter is now ripe for review.

         I. Background

         Praylow filed an application for DIB on November 21, 2013, alleging that he became unable to work on September 12, 2013, due to a spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury (“TBI”), migraine headaches, right frontal lobe atrophy, and diabetes. His application was denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. He requested a review by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and an ALJ conducted a hearing on December 11, 2014.

         On April 30, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision, finding that Praylow was not disabled as defined in the SSA from September 12, 2013, through the date of the decision. (ECF No. 6-2 at 6-26). The ALJ found that Praylow suffered from a combination of severe impairments of post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), anxiety, depression, organic mental disorder, disorders of the spine, right upper extremity neuropathy, and headaches. The ALJ specifically found that Praylow's knee and shoulder impairments, diabetes, plantar fasciitis, sleep apnea, tenia veriscolor, obesity, and attention deficit disorder (“ADD”) were not severe impairments. (ECF No. 6-2 at 13-14). The ALJ went on to find that Praylow's impairments did not meet or medically equal the criteria for any of the listed impairments. Accordingly, the ALJ proceeded to assess Praylow's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), finding that Praylow could perform a significant range of light work with limitations. The ALJ concluded that Praylow could not perform his past relevant work, but that he could perform other jobs in existence in the national economy in significant numbers and, therefore, denied his claim.

         Praylow sought review by the Appeals Council and he submitted additional evidence. On August 5, 2015, after considering the additional information, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision. Praylow then filed this action for judicial review on September 4, 2015. (ECF No. 1). The magistrate judge filed his Report on September 7, 2016. (ECF No. 17). On September 26, 2016, Praylow filed objections to the Report (ECF No. 19), and on October 12, 2016, the Commissioner filed a reply to those objections (ECF No. 21).

         II. Standard of Review

         The federal judiciary has a limited role in the administrative scheme established by the SSA. Section 405(g) of the Act provides, “the findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence has been defined . . . as more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964). This standard precludes a de novo review of the factual circumstances that substitutes the court's findings for those of the Commissioner. Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971). Thus, in its review, the court may not “undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] own judgment for that of the [Commissioner].” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996).

         However, “[f]rom this it does not follow . . . that the findings of the administrative agency are to be mechanically accepted. The statutorily granted right of review contemplates more than an uncritical rubber stamping of the administrative agency.” Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278, 279 (4th Cir. 1969). Rather, “the courts must not abdicate their responsibility to give careful scrutiny to the whole record to assure that there is a sound foundation for the [Commissioner's] findings, and that this conclusion is rational.” Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.

         III. Analysis

         In his objections, Praylow contends that the magistrate judge erred by finding the ALJ: 1) properly evaluated Praylow's physical and mental severe and non-severe impairments in combination; 2) gave the proper weight to the opinions of the treating physicians, specifically those from the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”); and 3) properly identified jobs Praylow could perform with the limitations found by the ALJ. At the outset, the court notes that Praylow's arguments in support of his this objection are essentially the same arguments that the magistrate judge considered and rejected. However, the court addresses each in turn below.

         1) Combination of Impairments

         The ALJ found Praylow had the severe impairments of PTSD, anxiety, depression, organic mental disorder, disorders of the spine, right upper extremity neuropathy, and headaches and the non-severe impairments of knee impairments, degenerative changes in the shoulder, diabetes mellitus, plantar fasciitis, sleep apnea, tinea versicolor, and obesity. Praylow contends that the ALJ erred by failing to evaluate the combined effect of his severe and non-severe impairments.

         The magistrate judge noted that Praylow did not identify what Listing he believed his impairments in combination meet or equal. (Report at 12). The magistrate judge also found that the ALJ adequately ...


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