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Bradshaw v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

February 12, 2018

Melissa Gulledge Bradshaw, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.



         This social security matter is before the court pursuant to Local Civil Rule 83.VII.02 (D.S.C.) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) for final adjudication, with the consent of the parties, of the plaintiff's petition for judicial review. The plaintiff, Melissa Gulledge Bradshaw, 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 her 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 affirmed.


         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 her past relevant work; and
(5) whether the claimant's impairments prevent her 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 she is unable to return to her past relevant work because of her 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).


         In June 2013, Bradshaw applied for DIB, alleging disability beginning March 21, 2012. Bradshaw's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an ALJ. A video hearing was held on April 21, 2015, at which Bradshaw appeared and testified, and was represented by Christi B. McDaniel, Esquire. The ALJ issued a decision on May 14, 2015 finding that Bradshaw was not disabled.[3] (Tr. 11-29.)

         Bradshaw was born in 1967 and was forty-seven years old on her date last insured. (Tr. 28.) She has a high school education and has past relevant work experience as a branch and assistant manager at a bank, and as a customer service manager at a grocery store. (Tr. 220) Bradshaw alleged disability due to degenerative disc disease, bipolar disorder, cervical spondylosis with myelopathy, multiple personalities, arthritis, neuropathy, and constant pain. (Tr. 219.)

         In applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found that Bradshaw had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of May 21, 2012 through her date last insured of December 31, 2014. The ALJ also determined that, through the date last insured, Bradshaw's degenerative disc disease status/post cervical fusion; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; osteoarthritis; right shoulder subacromial impingement; obesity; bipolar disorder; and post-traumatic stress disorder were severe impairments. However, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Bradshaw 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, through the date last insured, Bradshaw retained the residual functional capacity to

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she is capable of frequent balancing and no climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can perform occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling. She can perform no more than frequent reaching above shoulder bilaterally and she can have no concentrated exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights. She is able to understand, remember and carry out simple instructions in a work setting that does not involve interaction with the public and no more than occasional interaction with co-workers and supervisors.

(Tr. 17.) The ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Bradshaw was unable to perform any past relevant work but that, considering Bradshaw's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers that Bradshaw could perform. Therefore, the ALJ found that Bradshaw was not disabled from the alleged onset date of March 21, 2012 through the date last insured of December 31, 2014.

         The Appeals Council denied Bradshaw's request for review on September 9, 2016, making the decision of the ALJ the final action of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-5.) This action followed.


         Pursuant 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); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). Thus, the court may review only whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied. See Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982 (4th Cir. 1980). “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.” Craig, 76 F.3d at 589. In reviewing the evidence, the court may not “undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make ...

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