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Lindsay v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division

November 2, 2017

Athena Catoe Lindsay, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Kevin F. McDonald United States Magistrate Judge

         This 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).[1] 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 her claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.


         The plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) on March 21, 2013, alleging that she became unable to work on November 1, 2010. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. On November 22, 2013, the plaintiff requested a hearing. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”), before whom the plaintiff and Karl S. Weldon, an impartial vocational expert, appeared at a hearing held in Charlotte, North Carolina, on February 13, 2015, considered the case de novo and, on April 9, 2015, found that the plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, as amended. The Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review on September 3, 2016. On October 31, 2016, the Appeals Council set aside its September 3rd decision to consider additional information. After considering the additional information, the Appeals Council again denied the plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's finding the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The plaintiff then filed this action for judicial review.

         In making the determination that the plaintiff is not entitled to benefits, the Commissioner has adopted the following findings of the ALJ:

(1) The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2012.
(2) The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of November 1, 2010, through her date last insured of December 31, 2012 (20 C.F.R. § 404.1571 et seq).
(3) Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairments: diabetes, arthritis of the hips and legs, and hypertension (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)).
(4) Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled 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, and 404.1526).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(c) except the claimant can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently balance; occasionally stoop, kneel, and crouch; never crawl; and must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards and temperature extremes.
(6) Through the date last insured, the claimant was capable of performing past relevant work as a doffer (DOT 689.686-022, medium, unskilled) and weaver (DOT 683.682-022, light, unskilled). This work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 C.F.R. § 404.1565).
(7) The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 1, 2010, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2012, the date last insured (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)).

         The 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.


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), (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).

         To 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. If an individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4).

         A 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.

         Pursuant 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).


         The plaintiff was born on August 16, 1955, and was 55 years old on her alleged disability onset date (November 1, 2010) and 57 years old on her date last insured (December 31, 2012). She has a high school education and past relevant work experience in the textile industry as a weaver and a doffer (Tr. 97-99).

         On April 22, 2008, the plaintiff visited Parag Anandpura, M.D., at Shiland Family Medicine (“Shiland”) for refills of arthritis medicine. On May 6, 2008, she visited Shiland for a urinary tract infection and back pain. Dr. Anandpura prescribed Darvocet-N (Tr. 356).

         On August 29, 2008, she visited Shiland and was continued on diclofenac for pain and cautioned to use it sparingly. On September 8, 2008, she was prescribed Vicodin for back pain (Tr. 353, 354).

         On June 28, 2010, the plaintiff visited Shiland for arthritis pain and was prescribed Voltaren. She returned on July 7, 2010, for pain across her back and ...

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