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Fowler v. Berryhill

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

December 11, 2017

Stacey Lynn Fowler, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MARY GORDON BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This case is before the Court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to Local 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).

         The Plaintiff, Stacey Lynn Fowler, brought this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, (42 U.S.C. Section 405(g)), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration regarding her claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act.

         RELEVANT FACTS AND ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         Plaintiff was 37 years old on her alleged disability onset date of May 17, 2014. (R. at 17, 33.) She alleged disability due to status-post multiple traumatic injuries including bilateral ankle fractures as well as anxiety. (R. at 19, 89.) Plaintiff has a tenth-grade education and past relevant work as, inter alia, an order filler. (R. at 34, 22-23.)

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB and SSI on May 21, 2014. (R. at 17.) Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. (R. at 17.) After a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on August 28, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision on November 20, 2015, in which the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. at 17-23.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, (R. at 1-3), making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of 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 meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 17, 2014, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 etseq., and 416.971 etseq).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments: status-post multiple traumatic injuries including bilateral ankle fractures (20 CFR 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 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 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 sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except that she can have no exposure to work hazards; she cannot climb; and she can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
(6) The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as an order filler. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
(7) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from May 17, 2014, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f)).

(R at 19-22.)

         APPLICABLE LAW

         The Act 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). The Act also provides that supplemental security income (SSI) disability benefits shall be available for aged, blind, or disabled persons who have income and resources below a specific amount. See 42 U.S.C. § 1381 etseq. "Disability" is defined in the Act 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" twelve months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) (definition used in the DIB context); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (definition used in the SSI context).[1]

         To facilitate a uniform and efficient processing of disability claims, the 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 which equals an illness contained in the Administration's official Listing of Impairments found at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, (4) has an impairment which prevents past relevant work, and (5) has an impairment which prevents her from doing substantial gainful employment. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (DIB context); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 (SSI context); see also Brown v. Comm 'r, 873 F.3d 251, 254-55 (4th Cir. 2017). If an individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) (DIB context); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4) (SSI context); see also Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260 (4th Cir. 1981).

         A plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act if she can return to past relevant work as it is customarily performed in the economy or as the claimant actually performed the work. See SSR 82-62, 1982 WL 31386, at *3. The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing her inability to work within the meaning of the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(H)(i). She must make a prima facie showing of disability by showing that she is unable to return to her ...


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