United States District Court, D. South Carolina
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
BRISTOW MARCHANT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Plaintiff filed the complaint in this action pursuant to42
U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner wherein she was denied
disability benefits. This case was referred to the
undersigned for a report and recommendation pursuant to Local
Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), (D.S.C.).
applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on March 2,
2010, alleging disability beginning February 28,
due to physical limitations related to her hands and learning
disabilities. (R.pp. 100, 104-105, 140-141, 353-354).
Plaintiff s claim was denied both initially and upon
reconsideration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on December
18, 2012. (R.pp. 60-129). The ALJ thereafter denied
Plaintiff s claim in a decision issued February 12, 2013.
(R.pp. 161-174). However, the Appeals Council remanded the
case on April 22, 2014, based on the finding in the decision
that Plaintiff could only "occasionally" perform
fine or gross manipulation, while the jobs provided by the
Vocational Expert (VE) and cited by the ALJ as being jobs
that Plaintiff could perform required fingering and handling
"constantly". (R.pp. 179-181).
January 2, 2015, a second hearing was held, following which
an unfavorable decision was issued on March 20, 2015. (R.pp.
89-152, 183-219). However, the Appeals Council issued another
remand on May 28, 2015, again based on the ALJ limiting
Plaintiff s bilateral handling to "occasional",
while the jobs provided by the VE required handling
"frequently" or "constantly". (R.pp.
221-222). The ALJ was directed to obtain clarifying VE
testimony, and on October 16, 2015, the ALJ held another
hearing. The ALJ thereafter issued another unfavorable
decision on March 7, 2016. (R.pp. 10-48, 130-152). This time,
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff s request for a review
of the ALJ's decision, thereby making the determination
of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R.pp.
then filed this action in United States District Court.
Plaintiff asserts that there is not substantial evidence to
support the ALJ's decision, and that the decision should
be reversed and remanded for further consideration, or for an
outright award of benefits. The Commissioner contends that
the decision to deny benefits is supported by substantial
evidence, and that Plaintiff was properly found not to be
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court's scope of review is
limited to (1) whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the
ultimate conclusions reached by the Commissioner are legally
correct under controlling law. Hays v. Sullivan, 907
F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); Richardson v.
Califano, 574 F.2d 802, 803 (4th Cir. 1978); Myers
v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982-983 (4th Cir. 1980). If
the record contains substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's decision, it is the court's duty to
affirm the decision. Substantial evidence has been defined
evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to
support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a
mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance. If there is evidence to justify
refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then
there is "substantial evidence." [emphasis
Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (citing Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640');">368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966)); see also,
Hepp v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 798, 806 (8th
cir. 2008)[Noting that the substantial evidence standard is
even "less demanding than the preponderance of the
Court lacks the authority to substitute its own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Laws, 368 F.2d at 642.
"[T]he language of [405(g)] precludes a de novo judicial
proceeding and requires that the court uphold the
[Commissioner's] decision even should the court disagree
with such decision as long as it is supported by substantial
evidence." Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773,
775 (4th Cir. 1972).
review of the record shows that Plaintiff, who was only
twenty-four (24) years old when she alleges she became
disabled, has a limited education with past relevant work
experience as a puncher, cashier, and box handler. (R.pp. 46,
62, 82, 98-99, 101, 117-120, 138-139, 143-145). In order to
be considered "disabled" within the meaning of the
Social Security Act, Plaintiff must show that she has an
impairment or combination of impairments which prevent her
from engaging in all substantial gainful activity for which
she is qualified by her age, education, experience and
functional capacity, and which has lasted or could reasonably
be expected to last for at least twelve (12) consecutive
review of the evidence and testimony in this case, the ALJ
determined that although Plaintiff does suffer from the
"severe" impairments of bilateral brachysyndactyly of
the middle, ring, and small fingers on the right and ring and
small fingers on the left; diabetes mellitus type II; and a
learning disability, thereby rendering her unable to perform
any of her past relevant work, she nevertheless retained the
residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light
except that the bilateral use of hand controls to push and
pull repetitively is limited to occasional within the
exertional level; the Plaintiff could never climb ropes;
occasionally climb ladders, scaffolds and crawl; frequently
climb ramps and stairs; constantly balance, stoop, kneel, and
crouch; handle bilaterally on a frequent basis within her
exertional level; finger bilaterally on a frequent basis with
thumb and index finger and occasionally with the middle,
ring, and small fingers; and occasionally be exposed to
hazards associated with unprotected dangerous machinery or
unprotected heights, while otherwise being capable of being
aware of normal hazards and taking appropriate precautions.
The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff is able to
understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine tasks in
a low-stress environment (defined as free of fast-paced or
team-dependent production requirements) involving the
application of commonsense understanding to carry out
detailed, but uninvolved written or oral instructions with
few concrete variables in or from standardized situations.
(R.pp. 23-24). The ALJ then found that there were jobs that
Plaintiff could perform with these limitations, and that she
was therefore not entitled to disability benefits. (R.p. 48).
asserts that in reaching this decision, the Commissioner
erred by upholding the ALJ's decision since it was not
supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff further argues
that the ALJ failed to adequately assist a pro se Plaintiff.
However, after careful review and consideration of the
evidence and arguments presented, the undersigned finds and
concludes for the reasons set forth hereinbelow that there is
substantial evidence to support the decision of the
Commissioner, and that the decision should therefore be
affirmed. Laws, 368 F.2d 640');">368 F.2d 640 [Substantial evidence
is "evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as
sufficient to support a particular conclusion"].
primary complaint centers around the ALJ's change from
his March 20, 2015 decision, where he found that Plaintiff
could only perform handling occasionally, to his March 7,
2016 decision, where he found that she could perform handling
frequently. (R.pp. 23, 196). Plaintiff notes that while the
VE at the third (and most recent) hearing testified that
there were jobs that Plaintiff could perform with the
limitations set out by the ALJ, the VE testified that there
were no jobs that Plaintiff could perform if she was limited
to handling occasionally. (R.pp. 147-148).
argues that the ALJ did not demonstrate that her ability to
handle had changed since his last decision and, therefore,
the same RFC restriction for handling ought to have remained
in place. Accordingly, Plaintiff contends that this error
entitles her ...