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Christopher v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

March 9, 2018

Carla Yvette Christopher, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BRISTOW MARCHANT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The Plaintiff filed the complaint in this action pursuant to 42 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.).

         Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)[1] on February 22, 2013, alleging disability beginning December 1, 2012 due to arthritis, DVT, and hypertension. Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on July 27, 2015. (R.pp. 27-43). The ALJ thereafter denied Plaintiff's claims in a decision issued September 23, 2015. (R.pp. 12-22). 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. 1-5). Plaintiff then filed this action in United States District Court. Plaintiff asserts that there is not substantial evidence to support the ALJ's findings, 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 disabled.

         Scope of review

         Under 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 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 as:

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 added].

Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (citing Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640');">368 F.2d 640');">368 F.2d 640');">368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966)).

         The Court lacks the authority to substitute its own judgement 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).

         Discussion

         A review of the record shows that Plaintiff, who was fifty-three (53) years old on the onset date of her claimed disability, has a high school education with past relevant work experience as a cosmetologist. At the time of the ALJ hearing, Plaintiff was working part-time as a caregiver. (R.pp. 32-34). In order to be considered “disabled” within the meaning of the SSA, 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 months. After a review of the evidence and testimony in the case, the ALJ determined that, although Plaintiff does suffer from the “severe” impairments[2] of degenerative joint disease, obesity, and peripheral vascular disease, rendering her unable to perform her past relevant work, she nevertheless retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work[3]requiring only occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; and no exposure to temperature extremes, wetness, vibration, concentrated pulmonary irritants, or work hazards, and was therefore not entitled to disability benefits. (R.pp. 14, 16, 20-22).

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ's RFC assessment is not supported by substantial evidence as it was not in compliance with Social Security Ruling [“SSR”] 96-8p. However, after a 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');">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”].

         I. (Medical Records)

         The medical records show that on February 9, 2013, Plaintiff went to the Roper Hospital emergency room for complaints of a headache, back pain, abdomen pain, and elbow pain following a fall in a parking lot three days earlier. (R.p. 555). On examination, Plaintiff had generally normal findings, including a normal neurological examination with normal range of motion, joints, normal cranial nerves, sensation, motor strength, and no pedal edema. (R.pp. 554-556). Diagnostic imaging showed no acute intra cranial abnormality; (R.p. 587); and she was observed ambulating to check-out with a steady gait.

         On February 13, 2013, Plaintiff was evaluated at the Franklin C. Fetter Family Heath Center (“Fetter Family Health Clinic”), where she complained of back pain, having difficulty standing for a long time, and walking with a cane. (R.p. 710). She was diagnosed with back pain and a back contusion, and was excused from work for one week. (R.pp. 712-713). Plaintiff followed up with Dr. Charles Effiong with the Fetter Family Health Clinic on February 20, 2013. ...


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