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Blanchard v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

January 10, 2018

Regan I. Blanchard, 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, Regan I. Blanchard, 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 his claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Having carefully considered the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court concludes that the Commissioner's decision should be remanded for further consideration as explained below.

         SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY GENERALLY

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) and (d)(5), 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); 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 his past relevant work; and
(5).whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from doing any other kind of work.

20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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 he is unable to return to his past relevant work because of his 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); 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 March 2014, Blanchard applied for DIB, alleging disability beginning February 21, 2014. Blanchard's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and he requested a hearing before an ALJ. A hearing was held on January 29, 2016, at which Blanchard appeared and testified, and was represented by Robertson H. Wendt, Jr., Esquire. After hearing testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ issued a decision on February 17, 2016 finding that Blanchard was not disabled from February 21, 2014 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 26-38.)

         Blanchard was born in 1963 and was fifty years old on his disability onset date. He has a high school education and has past relevant work experience as a public service commissioner, a business development director, and a store manager of a grocery store. (Tr. 239.) Blanchard alleged disability due to degenerative disease of the thoracic and lumbar spine, chronic pain, radiculopathy, degenerative disc disease of the left shoulder, complications from winged scapular, and drowsiness from medications. (Tr. 238.)

         In applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found that Blanchard had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of February 21, 2014. The ALJ also determined that Blanchard's degenerative disc disease and myofascial pain syndrome were severe impairments. However, the ALJ found that Blanchard did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”). The ALJ further found that Blanchard retained the residual functional capacity to

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except with some limitations. Due to postural limitations, the claimant is capable of occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and climbing of ramps or stairs. However, the claimant must avoid all climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. Environmentally, the claimant must avoid all exposure to workplace hazards.

(Tr. 30.) The ALJ found that Blanchard was unable to perform any past relevant work, but that Blanchard had acquired work skills from past relevant work that were transferable to other occupations with jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Therefore, the ALJ found that Blanchard was not disabled from the alleged onset date of February 21, 2014 through the date of the decision.

         Blanchard submitted additional evidence to the Appeals Council which denied his request for review on August 4, 2016, making the ...


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