United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division
TIMOTHY M. CAIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
plaintiff, Penny Coleman, (“Coleman”), brought
this action pursuant to the Social Security Act
(“SSA”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking
judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”),  denying her claim
for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). In
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil
Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C., this matter was referred to a
magistrate judge for pretrial handling. Before this court is
the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation
(“Report”), recommending that the court reverse
and remand the Commissioner's decision under sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further administrative
proceedings. (ECF No. 15). In the Report, the magistrate judge
sets forth the relevant facts and legal standards, which are
incorporated herein by reference. The Commissioner filed
objections to the Report (ECF No. 17), and Coleman filed a
response to those objections (ECF No. 22). Accordingly, this
matter is now ripe for review.
applied for SSI on May 8, 2013, alleging disability beginning
on December 1, 2011. (ECF No. 15 at 2). Coleman's
application was denied initially and on reconsideration. On
April 15, 2015, an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) heard testimony from both Coleman and a
vocational expert. On July 2, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision
denying Coleman's claim.
decision, the ALJ found that Coleman suffered from the
following severe impairments: other and unspecified
arthropathies, anxiety, affective disorder, and borderline
intellectual functioning. Id. at 23. The ALJ found
that, despite Coleman's limitations, jobs existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that she could
perform. Id. Coleman sought review of her case by
the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied Coleman's
request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. The present action followed.
federal judiciary has a limited role in the administrative
scheme established by the SSA. Section 405(g) of the Act
provides, “the findings of the Commissioner of Social
Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive. . . .” 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). “Substantial evidence has been defined . . . as
more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.”
Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir.
1964). This standard precludes a de novo review of the
factual circumstances that substitutes the court's
findings for those of the Commissioner. Vitek v.
Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971). Thus, in its
review, the court may not “undertake to re-weigh
conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or
substitute [its] own judgment for that of the
[Commissioner].” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585,
589 (4th Cir. 1996).
“[f]rom this it does not follow . . . that the findings
of the administrative agency are to be mechanically accepted.
The statutorily granted right of review contemplates more
than an uncritical rubber stamping of the administrative
agency.” Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278, 279
(4th Cir. 1969). Rather, “the courts must not abdicate
their responsibility to give careful scrutiny to the whole
record to assure that there is a sound foundation for the
[Commissioner's] findings, and that this conclusion is
rational.” Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.
Report, the magistrate judge found: (1) that substantial
evidence supported both the ALJ's finding that Coleman
was not illiterate and his decision not to direct a finding
of disability based on Medical-Vocational Rule
201.17 and (2) that the ALJ erred by relying on
the jobs recommended by the Vocational Expert
(“VE”) without resolving a conflict between the
restrictions in the residual functioning capacity
(“RFC”) assessment and the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles (“DOT”)
descriptions of the jobs. (ECF No. 15). Accordingly, the
Report recommends that the case be reversed and remanded for
further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
Commissioner filed a single objection to the magistrate
judge's Report arguing that the magistrate judge erred in
finding that remand is warranted because there is a potential
conflict between the RFC limitation to jobs “not at a
production rate, ” and the job of “nut
sorter.” (ECF No. 17). The Commissioner argues that
there is no conflict.
facilitate a uniform and efficient processing of disability
claims, regulations promulgated under the Act have reduced
the statutory definition of disability to a series of five
sequential questions. See, e.g., Heckler v.
Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460 (1983). In the final step of
the five-step sequential process, the ALJ considers the
claimant's age, education, work experience, and RFC to
decide whether she can perform alternative work that exists
in significant numbers in the national economy. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1560(c). The claimant has
the burden of proof for the first four steps, but at the
final, fifth step, the Commissioner bears the burden to prove
that the claimant is able to perform alternative work.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n. 5 (1987).
To answer this final question-whether sufficient other work
exists for the claimant in the national economy-the ALJ
relies primarily on the DOT. Pearson v.
Colvin, 810 F.3d 204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015). The ALJ may
also use a VE to address complex aspects of the employment
determination, including the expert's observations of
what a particular job requires in practice or the
availability of given positions in the national economy.
Id. The ALJ must:
inquire, on the record, . . . whether the vocational
expert's testimony conflicts with the [DOT], and
[must] elicit a reasonable explanation for and resolve
conflicts between the expert's testimony and the
[DOT]. The ALJ must, by determining if the
vocational expert's explanation is reasonable, resolve
conflicts before relying on the [vocational expert's]
evidence to support a determination or decision about whether
the claimant is disabled.
Id. at 207-08. Thus, “[t]he ALJ independently
must identify conflicts between the expert's testimony
and the [DOT].” Id. at 209.
Furthermore, “an ALJ has not fully developed the record
if it contains an unresolved conflict between the VE's
testimony and the DOT” and “an ALJ errs
if he ignores an apparent conflict on the basis that the VE