United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division
Tammy L. Holley, 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
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 July 2, 2010, alleging she
became unable to work on November 1, 2006. The applications
were denied initially and upon reconsideration by the Social
Security Administration. On June 14, 2011, the plaintiff
requested a hearing. The administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), before whom the plaintiff and Arthur F.
Schmitt, Ph.D., an impartial vocational expert, appeared on
July 24, 2012, via video, considered the case de
novo, and on August 17, 2012, 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 review on August 7, 2013.
plaintiff sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision,
and on January 9, 2015, the United States District Court for
the District of South Carolina remanded the case to the
Commissioner for further administrative review in Holley
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., C.A. No.
6:13-2704-BHH. On February 13, 2015, the Appeals Council
issued an order remanding the case to the ALJ for proceedings
consistent with the court's order. On June 23, 2015, a
second video hearing was held, and on August 20, 2015, the
ALJ issued a decision finding the plaintiff was not disabled
(Tr. 592-605). Prior to the hearing, the plaintiff amended
her alleged onset date to September 14, 2009. The ALJ's
finding became the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security when the Appeals Council declined to assume
jurisdiction on June 15, 2016 (Tr. 579-85). 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, 2009.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since September 14, 2009, the amended alleged onset
date (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq. and
416.971 et seq.).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments:
obesity; rheumatoid arthritis; fibromyalgia; status post
right wrist carpal tunnel surgery; and hearing loss (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,
404.1526, 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). Specifically,
the claimant can lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally
and ten pounds frequently and stand, walk, and sit for six
hours each in an eight-hour work day; however, the claimant
can never climb, crawl, kneel, or tolerate exposure to loud
noise. She must have a sit/stand option at will. She can
occasionally finger bilaterally and frequently handle
bilaterally. The claimant can perform occasional overhead
(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 July 23, 1964, and was 45 years
old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on
the amended alleged disability onset date. The claimant
subsequently changed age category to closely approaching
advanced age (20 C.F.R. 404.1563 and 416.963).
(8) The claimant has a high school 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 the Medical-Vocational
Rules support 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 September 14, 2009, 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.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), (d)(5) and §
1382c(a)(3)(A), (H)(i), 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. §§
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 meets or medically equals an impairment contained in the
Listing of Impairments found at 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P,
App. 1, (4) can perform his past relevant work, and (5) can
perform other work. Id. §§ 404.1520,
416.920. If an individual is found not disabled at any step,
further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. §§
claimant must make a prima facie case of disability
by showing he is unable to return to his past relevant work
because of his impairments. Grant v. Schweiker, 699
F.2d 189, 191 (4th Cir. 1983). Once an individual
has established a prima facie case of disability,
the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that the
plaintiff can perform alternative work and that such work
exists in the national economy. Id. (citing 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)). The Commissioner may carry this
burden by obtaining testimony from a vocational expert.
Id. at 192.
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). “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.” Id. 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. Consequently, even if the
court disagrees with Commissioner's decision, the court
must uphold it if it supported by substantial evidence.
Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775
(4th Cir. 1972).
plaintiff was 45 years old on her amended alleged disability
onset date (September 14, 2009) and was 51 years old on the
date of the ALJ's decision (August 20, 2015). She has a
high school education and past relevant work as a medical
records assistant and a pharmacy technician (Tr. 618).
plaintiff's medical history at the Carolina Spine
Institute includes a 1978 left tympanoplasty (eardrum repair
surgery), 1994 cervical discectomy and fusion, and a 1998
carpal tunnel release (Tr. 270, 285, 293). On January 20,
2003, the plaintiff returned with neck pain. A left cervical
epidural steroid ...