United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division
Jacquelyn D. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the Court for a final Order pursuant to
Local Civil Rules 73.02(B)(1) and 83.VII.02, D.S.C.; 28
U.S.C. § 636(c); the parties' consent to disposition
by a Magistrate Judge [Doc. 7]; and the Order of reference
signed by the Honorable Margaret B. Seymour on February 18,
2016 [Doc. 10]. Plaintiff 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 Commissioner of Social
Security (“the Commissioner”), denying
Plaintiff's claim for supplemental security income
(“SSI”). For the reasons set forth below, the
decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.
February 7, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI,
alleging disability beginning October 15, 2008. [R. 165-74.]
The claim was denied initially and on reconsideration by the
Social Security Administration (“the
Administration”). [R. 83-85, 102-03, 106-09, 111-12.]
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”), and on May 15, 2014, ALJ Robert C.
Allen held a hearing on Plaintiff's claim. [R. 38-66.]
issued a decision on June 27, 2014, finding Plaintiff not
disabled under the Social Security Act (“the
Act”). [R. 26-37.] At Step 1,  the ALJ found Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 7,
2012, the application date. [R. 28, Finding 1.] At Step 2,
the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure,
generalized anxiety disorder, and affective disorder. [R. 28,
Finding 2.] The ALJ also found Plaintiff had non-severe
impairments of hypertension and hyperlipidemia, which were
effectively treated and controlled with medication. [R. 28.]
At Step 3, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled
one of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. [R. 28, Finding 3.] The ALJ specifically
considered Listings 4.02, 4.04, 4.05, 12.02, 12.04, 12.05,
and 12.06. [R. 28-29.]
addressing Step 4, Plaintiff's ability to perform his
past relevant work, the ALJ found Plaintiff retained the
following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in
20 CFR 416.967(a) except with the following limitations: He
cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffold. He can occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl. He should avoid concentrated exposure to heat, cold,
and humidity as well as odors, dusts, gases, and fumes. He
should avoid unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. He
is limited to simple unskilled work that does not involve
more than occasional contact with the general public.
Finding 4.] Based on this RFC, the ALJ determined at Step 4
that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work
as a painter [R. 35, Finding 5]; however, based on his age,
education, work experience, RFC, and vocational expert
testimony, there were jobs that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform
[R. 35, Finding 9]. On this basis, the ALJ found Plaintiff
had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, since
February 7, 2012, the date the application was filed. [R. 36,
requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision
but the Council declined. [R. 1-6. ] Plaintiff filed this
action for judicial review on February 4, 2016. [Doc.1.]
contends the ALJ's decision is not supported by
substantial evidence and should be remanded because the ALJ
failed to consider Plaintiff's medication side effects
and/or failed to find that Plaintiff's medication side
effects are severe impairments, failed to accord proper
weight to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physicians
Drs. Abdulla Abdulla and Fredric Woriax, and failed to
properly assess Plaintiff's credibility. [Doc. 15.] The
Commissioner, on the other hand, contends the ALJ's
decision is supported by substantial evidence and that
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's consideration of
the side effects of Plaintiff's medication, the ALJ
assigned the proper weight to the medical opinions, and the
ALJ properly evaluated and considered Plaintiff's
credibility. [Doc. 16.]
Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if
supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla-i.e., the
evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the
existence of a fact and must include such relevant evidence
as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support
the conclusion. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v.
NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966) (citing
Woolridge v. Celebrezze, 214 F.Supp. 686, 687 (S.D.
W.Va. 1963))(“Substantial evidence, it has been held,
is 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
conflicting evidence “allows reasonable minds to differ
as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for
that decision falls on the [Commissioner] (or the
[Commissioner's] designate, the ALJ), ” not on the
reviewing court. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589
(4th Cir. 1996); see also Edwards v. Sullivan, 937
F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991) (stating that where the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, the court will affirm, even if the reviewer would
have reached a contrary result as finder of fact and even if
the reviewer finds that the evidence preponderates against
the Commissioner's decision). Thus, it is not within the
province of a reviewing court to determine the weight of the
evidence, nor is it the court's function to substitute
its judgment for that of the Commissioner so long as the
decision is supported by substantial evidence. Laws,
368 F.2d at 642; Snyder v. Ribicoff, 307 F.2d 518,
520 (4th Cir. 1962).
reviewing court will reverse the Commissioner's decision
on plenary review, however, if the decision applies incorrect
law or fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning
to determine that the Commissioner properly applied the law.
Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982 (4th Cir.
1980); see also Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human
Servs., 21 F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994). Where the
Commissioner's decision “is in clear disregard of
the overwhelming weight of the evidence, Congress has
empowered the courts to modify or reverse the
[Commissioner's] decision ‘with or without
remanding the cause for a rehearing.'” Vitek v.
Finch, 438 F.2d 1157, 1158 (4th Cir. 1971) (quoting 42
U.S.C. § 405(g)). Remand is unnecessary where “the
record does not contain substantial evidence to support a
decision denying coverage under the correct legal standard
and when reopening the record for more evidence would serve
no purpose.” Breeden v. Weinberger, 493 F.2d
1002, 1012 (4th Cir. 1974).
court may remand a case to the Commissioner for a rehearing
under sentence four or sentence six of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Sargent v. Sullivan, 941 F.2d 1207 (4th Cir.
1991) (unpublished table decision). To remand under sentence
four, the reviewing court must find either that the
Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence or that the Commissioner incorrectly applied the law
relevant to the disability claim. See, e.g.,
Jackson v. Chater, 99 F.3d 1086, 1090-91 (11th Cir.
1996) (holding remand was appropriate where the ALJ failed to
develop a full and fair record of the claimant's residual
functional capacity); Brehem v. Harris, 621 F.2d
688, 690 (5th Cir. 1980) (holding remand was appropriate
where record was insufficient to affirm but was also
insufficient for court to find the claimant disabled). Where
the court cannot discern the basis for the Commissioner's
decision, a remand under sentence four may be appropriate to
allow the Commissioner to explain the basis for the decision.
See Smith v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1176, 1181-82 (4th
Cir. 1986) (remanding case where decision of ALJ contained
“a gap in its reasoning” because ALJ did not say
he was discounting testimony or why); Gordon v.
Schweiker, 725 F.2d 231, 235 (4th Cir. 1984) (remanding
case where neither the ALJ nor the Appeals Council indicated
the weight given to relevant evidence). On remand under
sentence four, the ALJ should review the case on a complete
record, including any new material evidence. See
Smith, 782 F.2d at 1182 (“The [Commissioner] and
the claimant may produce further evidence on remand.”).
After a remand under sentence four, the court enters a final
and immediately appealable judgment and then loses
jurisdiction. Sargent, 941 F.2d 1207 (citing
Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 102 (1991)).
contrast, sentence six provides:
The court may . . . at any time order additional evidence to
be taken before the Commissioner of Social Security, but only
upon a showing that there is new evidence which is material
and that there is good cause for the failure to incorporate
such evidence into the record in a prior proceeding . . . .
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A reviewing court may remand a case
to the Commissioner on the basis of new evidence only if four
prerequisites are met: (1) the evidence is relevant to the
determination of disability at the time the application was
first filed; (2) the evidence is material to the extent that
the Commissioner's decision might reasonably have been
different had the new evidence been before him; (3) there is
good cause for the claimant's failure to submit the
evidence when the claim was before the Commissioner; and (4)
the claimant made at least a general showing of the nature of
the new evidence to the reviewing court. Borders v.
Heckler, 777 F.2d 954, 955 (4th Cir. 1985) (citing 42
U.S.C. § 405(g); Mitchell v. Schweiker, 699
F.2d 185, 188 (4th Cir. 1983); Sims v. Harris, 631
F.2d 26, 28 (4th Cir. 1980); King v. Califano, 599
F.2d 597, 599 (4th Cir. 1979)), superseded by amendment
to statute, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), as recognized
in Wilkins v. Sec'y, Dep't of Health & Human
Servs., 925 F.2d 769, 774 (4th Cir. 1991). With remand under
sentence six, the parties must return to the court after
remand to file modified findings of fact. Melkonyan,
501 U.S. at 98. The reviewing court retains jurisdiction
pending remand and does not enter a final judgment until
after the completion of remand proceedings. See Allen v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 293 (4th Cir. 1995) (unpublished table
decision) (holding that an order remanding a claim for Social
Security benefits pursuant to sentence six of 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) is not a final order).
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 as:
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 a continuous period
of not less than 12 consecutive months.
Id. § 423(d)(1)(A).
The Five Step Evaluation
facilitate uniform and efficient processing of disability
claims, federal regulations have reduced the statutory
definition of disability to a series of five sequential
questions. See, e.g., Heckler v. Campbell,
461 U.S. 458, 461 n.2 (1983) (noting a “need for
efficiency” in considering disability claims). The ALJ
must consider whether (1) the claimant is engaged in
substantial gainful activity; (2) the claimant has a severe
impairment; (3) the impairment meets or equals an impairment
included in the Administration's Official Listings of
Impairments found at 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1; (4)
the impairment prevents the claimant from performing past
relevant work; and (5) the impairment prevents the claimant
from having substantial gainful employment. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920. Through the fourth step, the burden of production
and proof is on the claimant. Grant v. Schweiker,
699 F.2d 189, 191 (4th Cir. 1983). The claimant must prove
disability on or before the last day of her insured status to
receive disability benefits. Everett v. Sec'y of
Health, Educ. & Welfare, 412 F.2d 842, 843 (4th Cir.
1969). If the inquiry reaches step five, the burden shifts to
the Commissioner to produce evidence that other jobs exist in
the national economy that the claimant can perform,
considering the claimant's age, education, and work
experience. Grant, 699 F.2d at 191. If at any step
of the evaluation the ALJ can find an individual is disabled
or not disabled, further inquiry is unnecessary. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(a)(4); Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260,
264 (4th Cir. 1981).
Substantial Gainful Activity
gainful activity” must be both substantial-involves
doing significant physical or mental activities, 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.972(a)-and gainful-done for pay or profit, whether
or not a profit is realized, id. § 416.972(b).
If an individual has earnings from employment or
self-employment above a specific level set out in the
regulations, he is generally presumed to be able to engage in
substantial gainful activity. Id. §