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Trent v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

November 5, 2017

Karen Danette Trent, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Paige J. Gossett UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This social security matter is before the court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to Local Civil Rule 83.VII.02 (D.S.C.). The plaintiff, Karen Danette Trent, 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”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Having carefully considered the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court concludes that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and remanded for further proceedings as set forth below.

         SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY GENERALLY

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), (d)(5) and § 1382c(a)(3)(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. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(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 activity;
(2) whether the claimant has a “severe” impairment;
(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; and
(5) whether the claimant's impairments prevent her from doing any other kind of work.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).[2] 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 step. Id.

         Under 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A)-(B); 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. 1983).

         ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         In July 2012, Trent applied for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2009. Trent's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an ALJ. A hearing was held on September 11, 2014 at which Trent, who was represented by Beatrice Whitten, Esquire, appeared and testified. After hearing testimony from Trent's sister as well as a vocational expert, the ALJ issued a decision on December 24, 2014 concluding that Trent was not disabled from January 1, 2009 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 9-19.)

         Trent was born in 1971 and was thirty-seven years old at the time of her alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 18.) She has a high school education, and has past relevant work experience as customer service representative and house keeper. (Tr. 196.) Trent alleged disability due to chronic obstructive pulmonary ...


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