United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division
Scotty M. Horne, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
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
636(b)(1)(B). The plaintiff brought this action pursuant
to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42
U.S.C. 405(g)) to obtain judicial review of a final decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) on March 21, 2012, alleging that
he became unable to work on January 15, 2011. The application
was denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social
Security Administration. On August 14, 2012, the plaintiff
requested a hearing. The administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), before whom the plaintiff, his attorney,
and William W. Stewart, Ph.D., an impartial vocational
expert, appeared at a hearing on May 8, 2014, considered the
case de novo and, on June 27, 2014, found that the
plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social
Security Act, as amended. 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 16, 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 December 31, 2016.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since January 15, 2011, the alleged onset date (20
C.F.R. § 404.1571 et seq).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments: stable
ascending aortic aneurism; chronic obstructive pulmonary
disorder (COPD), complicated by tobacco abuse that is in
early remission; depression; anxiety; and rule out
personality disorder (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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,
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, I find
that the claimant had the residual functional capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) except
he is limited to simple, routine tasks that do not require
ongoing interaction with the general public or close
“team type” interaction with co-workers, do not
require reading or writing above a second grade level, and
takes place in a low stress environment (defined as not
required to make complex decisions at the workplace, not
required to meet a rigid production schedule, or to adapt to
frequent changes in the workplace) and the claimant is
limited to non-confrontational supervisory interaction.
Additionally, the claimant is limited to no more than
occasional stooping, crouching, kneeling, climbing of stairs
and ramps, crawling, and balancing, and no climbing of
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant should also have
no concentrated exposure to dusts, fumes, gases, odors, or
extremes of humidity, heat, or cold.
(6) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 C.F.R. § 404.1565).
(7) The claimant was born on November 26, 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. §
(8) The claimant has a limited education and is able to
communicate in English (20 C.F.R. § 404.1564).
(9) Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because the Medical-Vocational
Rules support a finding that the claimant is “not
disabled, ” whether or not 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 claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. § 404.1569 and
(11) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from January 15, 2011, through
the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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(a)(4). If an individual is found
not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary.
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 that the plaintiff can perform despite the existence
of impairments that 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 before a jury, then there is
Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642
(4th Cir. 1966) (citation omitted).
it is the duty of this court to give careful scrutiny to the
whole record to assure that there is a sound foundation for
the Commissioner's findings and that the conclusion is
rational. Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543
(4th Cir. 1964). If there is substantial evidence
to support the decision of the Commissioner, that decision
must be affirmed. Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d
773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972).
Before the ALJ
plaintiff was 46 years old on the alleged disability onset
date (January 15, 2011) and 49 years old on the date of the
ALJ's decision (June 27, 2014). He has past relevant work
experience as a transmission mechanic (Tr. 34).
April 10, 2011, the plaintiff was hospitalized for an
evaluation of his aortic aneurysm. A CT angiogram showed an
aortic aneurysm measuring 47 mm with no evidence of
dissection (Tr. 267-81).
11, 2011, George Butler, M.D., of Pageland Family Medicine
evaluated the plaintiff for followup of chronic medical
problems including anxiety and an aortic aneurysm. The
plaintiff reported that he had been out of his medications
for about a week because they were stolen. The plaintiff
admitted to problems staying calm and reported problems with
maintaining relationships and outbursts. Dr. Butler discussed
medications with the plaintiff and diagnosed aortic aneurysm,
currently asymptomatic; anxiety, insomnia, and