United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division
REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE
F. McDonald United States Magistrate Judge.
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
plaintiff brought this action pursuant to Section 1631(c)(3)
of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C.
1383(c)(3)), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for
supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social
plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) benefits on February 4, 2008, alleging
that he became unable to work on June 27, 2005. Both
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration by
the Social Security Administration. The plaintiff later
amended his alleged onset date of disability to August 15,
2007. On March 27, 2009, the plaintiff requested a hearing.
Administrative law judge (“ALJ”) Linda R. Haack,
before whom the plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert
appeared on May 6, 2010, considered the case de
novo, and on June 25, 2010, found that the plaintiff was
not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act,
as amended (Tr. 86-106). The Appeals Council denied the
plaintiff's request for review on July 13, 2011 (Tr.
plaintiff filed another application for SSI on January 3,
2011, alleging disability beginning June 27, 2005. The claim
was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On August 29,
2011, the plaintiff requested a hearing. The plaintiff
appeared and testified before ALJ Edward T. Morriss on
November 15, 2012. On January 24, 2013, the ALJ issued a
decision denying the plaintiff's application for benefits
(Tr. 119-27). On April 3, 2014, the Appeals Council granted
the plaintiff's request for review and remanded the case
to the ALJ with the following directions:
Include decisional language explaining which findings from
the prior decision, which was issued on June 25, 2010, remain
binding and which do not;
Give further consideration to the claimant's maximum
residual functional capacity during the entire period at
issue and provide rationale with specific references to
evidence of record in support of assessed limitations (Social
Security Ruling 96-8p);
Obtain evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the
effect of the assessed limitations on the claimant's
occupational base (Social Security Ruling 83-14).
August 13, 2015, a second hearing was held. The plaintiff and
Mark A. Stebnicki, an impartial vocational expert, appeared
at the hearing. On October 8, 2015, ALJ Morriss found that
the plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the
Social Security Act, as amended. The ALJ's finding became
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
when the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request
for review on August 8, 2016. The plaintiff then filed this
action for judicial review.
making the determination that the plaintiff is not entitled
to benefits, the Commissioner has adopted the following
findings of the ALJ:
(1) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since January 3, 2011, the application date (20
C.F.R. § 416.971 et seq.).
(2) The claimant has the following severe impairments: HIV,
degenerative joint disease of the shoulders, and degenerative
disc disease (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c)).
(3) 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 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925 and
(4) After careful consideration of the entire record, I find
that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b).
Specifically, the claimant can lift and carry up to 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently and stand, walk, and
sit for 6 hours each in an 8-hour work day. The claimant can
frequently push/pull with his shoulders bilaterally and
frequently push/pull with his right knee; however, he can
only occasionally push/pull with his left ankle. He can
frequently balance, kneel, and crawl but only occasionally
stoop, crouch, and climb ramps and stairs. Additionally, the
claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can
frequently handle and finger with his bilateral upper
extremities but only occasionally reach overhead with his
bilateral upper extremities. Furthermore, the claimant must
avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat,
and humidity. He must not work around heights or moving
(5) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 C.F.R. § 416.965).
(6) The claimant was born on August 4, 1962, and was 48 years
old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on
the date the application was filed. The claimant subsequently
changed age category to closely approaching advanced age (20
C.F.R. § 416.963).
(7) The claimant has a limited education and is able to
communicate in English (20 C.F.R. § 416.964).
(8) Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled” whether or
not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41
and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
(9) Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. § 416.969(a)).
(10) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, since January 3, 2011, the date
the application was filed (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)).
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.
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A), (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. §
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. § 416.920. If an
individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry
is unnecessary. Id. § 416.920(a)(4).
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.
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