United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division
REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE
F. McDonald United States Magistrate Judge
case is before the court for a report and recommendation
pursuant to Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a)(D.S.C.),
concerning the disposition of Social Security cases in this
District, and Title 28, United States Code, Section
plaintiff brought this action pursuant to Sections 205(g) and
1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C.
405(g) and 1383(c)(3)), to obtain judicial review of a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her
claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income benefits under Titles II and XVI of the
Social Security Act.
plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) benefits on November 7, 2011, and
November 15, 2011, respectively, alleging that she became
unable to work on March 1, 2011. Both applications were
denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social
Security Administration. On February 4, 2013, the plaintiff
requested a hearing. The administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), before whom the plaintiff, her attorney,
and Benson Hecker, an impartial vocational expert, appeared
on May 20, 2014, considered the case de novo, and on
September 12, 2014, found that the plaintiff was not under a
disability as defined in the Social Security Act, as amended.
During the hearing, the plaintiff amended her alleged onset
date to July 1, 2013 (Tr. 73). The ALJ's finding became
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
when the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request
for review on December 18, 2015. The plaintiff then filed
this action for judicial review.
making the determination that the plaintiff is not entitled
to benefits, the Commissioner has adopted the following
findings of the ALJ:
(1) The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through June 30, 2016.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since July 1, 2013, the amended alleged onset date
(20 C.F.R §§ 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments:
osteoarthritis of the knee, chronic back pain, obesity,
depression, anxiety, and somatoform disorder (20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
(4) The claimant does not have an impairment or combination
of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525,
416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) as follows: The claimant
can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently
climb ramps or stairs; occasionally stoop, crouch, kneel, or
crawl; would be capable of frequent handling of objects with
the right upper extremity; and frequent fingering with the
left upper exptremity, and must avoid all use of moving
machinery and exposure to unprotected heights. The claimant
would be limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks;
performed in a work environment free of fast-pace production
requirements, involving only simple, work-related decisions,
and with few, if any, work place changes, with only
occasional interaction with the public and coworkers.
(6) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565 and 416.965).
(7) The claimant was born on November 18, 1964, and was 46
years old, which is defined as a younger individual age
18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1563 and 416.963).
(8) The claimant has a limited education and is able to
communicate in English (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1564 and
(9) Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled” whether or
not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41
and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
(10) Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. §§
404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
(11) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from July 1, 2013, the amended
alleged onset date, through the date of this decision (20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).
only issues before the court are whether proper legal
standards were applied and whether the final decision of the
Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence.
Social Security Act provides that disability benefits shall
be available to those persons insured for benefits, who are
not of retirement age, who properly apply, and who are under
a “disability.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(a).
“Disability” is defined in 42 U.S.C. §
the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity
by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment which can be expected to result in death or which
has lasted or can be expected to last for at least 12
facilitate a uniform and efficient processing of disability
claims, the Social Security Act has by regulation reduced the
statutory definition of “disability” to a series
of five sequential questions. An examiner must consider
whether the claimant (1) is engaged in substantial gainful
activity, (2) has a severe impairment, (3) has an impairment
that equals an illness contained in the Social Security
Administration's Official Listings of Impairments found
at 20 C.F.R. Part 4, Subpart P, App. 1, (4) has an impairment
that prevents past relevant work, and (5) has an impairment
that prevents him from doing substantial gainful employment.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. If an individual is
found not disabled at any step, further inquiry is
unnecessary. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act if he
can return to past relevant work as it is customarily
performed in the economy or as the claimant actually
performed the work. SSR 82-62, 1982 WL 31386, at *3. The
plaintiff bears the burden of establishing his inability to
work within the meaning of the Act. 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(5). He must make a prima facie showing of disability
by showing he is unable to return to his past relevant work.
Grant v. Schweiker, 699 F.2d 189, 191
(4th Cir. 1983).
individual has established an inability to return to his past
relevant work, the burden is on the Commissioner to come
forward with evidence that the plaintiff can perform
alternative work and that such work exists in the regional
economy. The Commissioner may carry the burden of
demonstrating the existence of jobs available in the national
economy which the plaintiff can perform despite the existence
of impairments which prevent the return to past relevant work
by obtaining testimony from a vocational expert. Id.
scope of judicial review by the federal courts in disability
cases is narrowly tailored to determine whether the findings
of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence and
whether the correct law was applied. Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
1990). Consequently, the Act precludes a de novo
review of the evidence and requires the court to uphold the
Commissioner's decision as long as it is supported by
substantial evidence. See Pyles v. Bowen, 849 F.2d
846, 848 (4th Cir. 1988) (citing Smith
v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir.
1986)). The phrase “supported by substantial
evidence” is 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 a refusal to
direct a verdict were the case ...