United States District Court, D. South Carolina
Melissa B. Baldwin, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
J. GOSSETT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
social security matter is before the court pursuant to Local
Civil Rule 83.VII.02 (D.S.C.) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) for
final adjudication, with the consent of the parties, of the
plaintiff's petition for judicial review. The plaintiff,
Melissa B. Baldwin, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) to obtain judicial review
of a final decision of the defendant, Acting Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying her
claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).
Having carefully considered the parties' submissions and
the applicable law, the court concludes that the
Commissioner's decision should be affirmed.
SECURITY DISABILITY GENERALLY
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) and (d)(5), as well as pursuant
to the regulations formulated by the Commissioner, the
plaintiff has the burden of proving disability, which is
defined as an “inability to do 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 a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1505(a); see also Blalock v.
Richardson, 483 F.2d 773 (4th Cir. 1973). The
regulations require the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) to consider, in sequence:
(1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
(2) whether the claimant has a “severe”
(3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or
equals the requirements of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“the Listings”),
and is thus presumptively disabled;
(4) whether the claimant can perform her past relevant work;
(5) whether the claimant's impairments prevent her from
doing any other kind of work.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). If the ALJ can make a
determination that a claimant is or is not disabled at any
point in this process, review does not proceed to the next
this analysis, a claimant has the initial burden of showing
that she is unable to return to her past relevant work
because of her impairments. Once the claimant establishes a
prima facie case of disability, the burden shifts to
the Commissioner. To satisfy this burden, the Commissioner
must establish that the claimant has the residual functional
capacity, considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and impairments, to perform alternative jobs that
exist in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A);
see also McLain v. Schweiker, 715 F.2d 866, 868-69
(4th Cir. 1983); Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260,
264-65 (4th Cir. 1981); Wilson v. Califano, 617 F.2d
1050, 1053 (4th Cir. 1980). The Commissioner may carry this
burden by obtaining testimony from a vocational expert.
Grant v. Schweiker, 699 F.2d 189, 192 (4th Cir.
October 2012, Baldwin applied for DIB, alleging disability
beginning December 15, 2006. Baldwin's application was
denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested
a hearing before an ALJ. A hearing was held on August 7,
2014, at which Baldwin appeared and testified, and was
represented by Leeds Barroll, IV, Esquire. After hearing
testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ issued a decision
on November 4, 2014 finding that Baldwin was not disabled.
was born in 1958 and was forty-seven years old on her
disability onset date. (Tr. 20.) She has a high school
education and past relevant work experience as an
administrative assistant supervisor. (Tr. 155.) Baldwin
alleged disability due to spinal, lower back, and neck
injuries; scoliosis; fibromyalgia; a herniated disc; and
teeth chattering. (Tr. 154.)
applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found that
Baldwin had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from
her alleged onset date of December 15, 2006 through her date
last insured of December 31, 2011. The ALJ also determined
that, through the date last insured, Baldwin's
degenerative disc disease was a severe impairment. However,
the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Baldwin
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the
“Listings”). The ALJ further found that, through
the date last insured, Baldwin retained the residual
functional capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). However,
claimant could never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds,
only occasionally climb ramps, climb stairs, stoop, kneel,
crouch, perform overhead reaching, crawl, and balance, and
only frequently reach, handle, and finger. Claimant needed to
avoid concentrated exposure [to] vibration and avoid all
exposure to hazards and unprotected heights.
(Tr. 15.) The ALJ found that, through the date last insured,
Baldwin was capable of performing past relevant work as an
administrative assistant supervisor, and that this work did
not require the performance of work-related activities
precluded by Baldwin's residual functional capacity.
Therefore, the ALJ found that Baldwin was not disabled from
the alleged onset date of December 15, 2006 through the date
last insured of December 31, 2011.
Appeals Council denied Baldwin's request for review on
January 20, 2016, making the decision of the ALJ the final
action of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-5.) This action followed.
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the court may review the
Commissioner's denial of benefits. However, this review
is limited to considering whether the Commissioner's
findings “are supported by substantial evidence and
were reached through application of the correct legal
standard.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589
(4th Cir. 1996); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987).
Thus, the court may review only whether the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence and whether the correct law was applied. See
Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982 (4th Cir. 1980).
“Substantial evidence” means “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion; it consists of more than a mere
scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance.” Craig, 76 F.3d at 589. In
reviewing the evidence, the court may not “undertake to
re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the
[Commissioner].” Id. Accordingly, even if the
court disagrees with the Commissioner's decision, the
court must uphold it if it is supported by substantial
evidence. Blalock, 483 F.2d at 775.
raises the following issues for this judicial review:
I. The ALJ erred in failing to honor the Treating Physician
II. The ALJ erred in finding that myofascial pain is a
III. The ALJ erred in failing to evaluate symptoms properly
pursuant to the two-part test of Craig v. Chater and
IV. The ALJ violated the legal standard for evaluating RFC[.]
(Pl.'s Br., ECF No. 9.)
Baldwin raises several issues for this judicial review, the
court, like the Commissioner, addresses these issues in order
of the sequential process. Further, for the reasons that
follow, the court finds that Baldwin has failed to
demonstrate that the ALJ's decision is unsupported by
substantial evidence or controlled by an error of law.