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Sturdevant v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

March 29, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.



         This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett's Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) that the court affirm Acting Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's (the “Commissioner”) decision denying Plaintiff Jayniece K. Sturdevant's (“Sturdevant”) application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the R&R and affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Sturdevant filed for SSI and DIB in February 2011, alleging that she became disabled beginning May 15, 2010. Tr. 868. Sturdevant's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). ALJ Augustus C. Martin (“ALJ Martin” held a hearing on June 4, 2012, at which Sturdevant and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. Tr. 24. Sturdevant was represented by her attorney, James Callahan (“Callahan”), at the hearing. Id. ALJ Martin issued a decision on July 3, 2012, finding Sturdevant not disabled under the Social Security Act. Tr. 15-23. Following the Appeals Council's denial of Sturdevant's request for review, Sturdevant appealed to the United States District Court, which reversed ALJ Martin's decision and remanded Sturdevant's case, directing the ALJ to address Sturdevant's alleged right hand impairment. Tr. 865.

         Based on subsequent claims for DIB and SSI that Sturdevant filed in December 2013, the Appeals Council issued an order on July 2, 2015, directing the ALJ to consolidate claim files, create a single electronic record and issue a new decision on the consolidated claims. Tr. 879-80. A second hearing was held on January 6, 2016 before a different ALJ, Carl Watson (“ALJ Watson”), at which Sturdevant and a VE testified. Tr. 739. ALJ Watson issued a decision on September 2, 2016, finding Sturdevant not disabled. Tr. 713-29.

         On January 19, 2017, Sturdevant initiated the current appeal to this court. ECF No. 1. On January 29, 2018, the magistrate judge issue the R&R recommending that this court affirm ALJ Watson's decision. ECF No. 22. On February 13, 2018, Sturdevant filed objections to the R&R. ECF No. 23. On February 22, 2018, the Commissioner filed a reply. ECF No. 24.

         B. Medical History

         Because Sturdevant's medical history is not directly at issue here, the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and only notes a few relevant facts. Sturdevant was born in 1957 and was fifty-two years old at the time of her alleged disability onset date. Tr. 235. She has passed a General Educational Development test and has past relevant work experience as a waitress, a fork lift operator, and a warehouse worker. Tr. 240-41, 247. Sturdevant alleged disability due to high blood pressure, back and leg pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, neuropathy of the right hand, depression and anxiety, and other physical ailments. Tr. 868.

         C. ALJ's Decision

         Applying the five-step sequential analysis, ALJ Watson found that Sturdevant had not engaged in in substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability onset date of May 15, 2010. Tr. 715. ALJ Watson also determined that Sturdevant had the following severe impairments: mild lumbar spondylosis, moderate central stenosis at the L4-5, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with tobacco abuse. Id. However, ALJ Watson found that Sturdevant 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”). Tr. 717. ALJ Watson further found that Sturdevant retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

Perform less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that she cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, as well as occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She must avoid moderate exposure to smoke, fumes, odors, dust, gases, and poor ventilation. The claimant must avoid working at unprotected heights.

Tr. 718-19. ALJ Watson found that Sturdevant was capable of performing past relevant work as a waitress and as a waitress supervisor, and that this work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Sturdevant's RFC. Tr. 728. Based on this analysis, ALJ Watson found that Sturdevant was not disabled from the alleged onset date through the date of the decision. Id.

         II. ...

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