Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Peace v. Berryhill

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

November 20, 2017

STANLEY ALEXANDER PEACE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER

          DAVID C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McDonald's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") that this court affirm Acting Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's ("the Commissioner") decision denying plaintiff Stanley Alexander Peace's ("Peace") application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). Peace filed objections to the R&R. For the reasons set forth below, the court rejects the R&R, reverses the Commissioner's decision, and remands the case for further administrative proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Unless otherwise noted, the following background is drawn from the R&R.

         A. Procedural History

         Peace filed an application for DIB on August 8, 2014, alleging disability beginning on May 5, 2011, which was later amended to March 30, 2013.[2] The Social Security Agency denied Peace's claim initially and on reconsideration. Peace requested a hearing before an ALJ, and ALJ Marcus Christ held a hearing on March 24, 2016.

         The ALJ issued a decision on April 20, 2016, finding Peace not disabled under the Social Security Act and noting that substance abuse was a contributing factor material to the determination of disability for a portion of the relevant period, and that upon achieving sobriety, Peace no longer had disabling functional limitations. Peace requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council denied Peace's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. On July19, 2016, Peace filed this action seeking review of the ALJ's decision. The magistrate judge issued an R&R on September 21, 2017, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ's decision. Peace filed objections to the R&R on October 5, 2017, to which the Commissioner responded on October 19, 2017. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.

         B. Medical History

         Because Peace's medical history is not directly at issue here, the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and instead notes a few relevant facts. Peace was born on February 15, 1964, and was forty-nine years old on the alleged onset date. He has a high school education and past relevant work experience as a truck, driver.

         C. ALJ's Findings

         The Social Security Act defines "disability" 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 riot less than 12 months[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). The Social Security regulations establish a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Under this process, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant: (1) "is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity;" (2) "has a severe impairment;" (3) has an impairment which equals an illness contained in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1, "which warrants a finding of disability without considering vocational factors;" (4) if not, whether the claimant has an impairment that prevents him from performing past relevant work; and (5) if so, "whether the claimant is able to perform other work considering both his remaining physical and mental capacities" (defined by his residual functional capacity) and his "vocational capabilities (age, education, and past work experience) to adjust to a new job." Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264-65 (4th Cir. 1981); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The applicant bears the burden of proof during the first four steps of the inquiry, while the burden shifts to the Commissioner for the final step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995) (citing Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 35 (4th Cir: 1992)).

         The ALJ employed the statutorily-required five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether Peace was disabled beginning March 30, 2013. The ALJ first determined that Peace did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period at issue. Tr. 13. At the second step, the ALJ found that Peace suffered from the following severe impairments: major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), sleep apnea, hypertension, degenerative joint disease of bilateral knees, and polysubstance abuse disorder.[3] Tr. 14. At step three, the ALJ found that Peace's impairments or combination of impairments, including the substance abuse disorders, met Sections 12.04, 12.06, and 12.09 of the Agency's Listings of Impairments ("the Listings', ') through July 15, 2014. Tr. 14; see 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. The ALJ found that if Peace stopped the substance use, his remaining limitations would cause more than a minimal impact on his ability to perform basic work activities, and thus, he would continue to have a severe impairment or combination of impairments. Tr. 16. However, the ALJ held that if Peace stopped the substance use, Peace's severe impairment or combination of impairments would not meet or medically equal one of the Listings; Tr. 16-19. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined if Peace stopped the substance use, he would have the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with the following exceptions: no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; occasional stooping, crouching, crawling, and kneeling; avoiding moderate exposure to use of moving machinery and all exposure to unprotected heights; limiting work to simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a work environment free of fast-paced production requirements and involving simple work related decisions with few, if any, changes to work place schedule; and occasionally interacting with the public and co-workers. Tr. 19-22. The ALJ found at step four that Peace was unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 22-23. Finally, at step five, the ALJ determined that if Peace stopped the substance abuse, considering Peace's age, education, work experience, and RFC, he could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy and concluded that he was not disabled during the period at issue. Tr. 23-24. The ALJ further held that Peace's substance use disorder is a contributing factor material to the determination of disability because Peace would not be disabled if he stopped the substance use. Tr. 24. Thus, the ALJ found that Peace has not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act at any time from the alleged Onset date through April 20, 2016, the date of the ALJ's decision. Tr. 24.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This court is charged with conducting a de novo review of any portion of the magistrate judge's R&R to which specific, written objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). A party's failure to object is accepted as agreement with the magistrate judge's conclusions. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149-50 (-1985). The R&R carries no presumptive weight, and the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.