United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division
REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE
F. MCDONALD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
case is before the court for a report and recommendation
pursuant to Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a) (D.S.C.),
concerning the disposition of Social Security cases in this
District, and Title 28, United States Code, Section
plaintiff brought this action pursuant to Section 1631(c)(3)
of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C.
1383(c)(3)), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for
supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act.
plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security
income (“SSI”) benefits on March 4, 2013,
alleging disability commencing January 1, 2007. The
application was denied initially and on reconsideration by
the Social Security Administration. On December 24, 2013, the
plaintiff requested a hearing. The administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), before whom the plaintiff and Benson
Hecker, an impartial vocational expert, appeared during a
hearing on June 25, 2015, considered the case de
novo, and on August 13, 2015, found that the plaintiff
was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security
Act, as amended. The ALJ's finding became the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security when the
Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review
on December 5, 2016. The plaintiff then filed this action for
making the determination that the plaintiff is not entitled
to benefits, the Commissioner has adopted the following
findings of the ALJ:
(1) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since March 4, 2013, the application date (20 C.F.R.
§ 416.971 et. seq.)
(2) The claimant has the following severe impairments:
affective disorder and history of alcohol abuse (20 C.F.R.
(3) The claimant does not have an impairment or combination
of impairments that meets or medically equals the the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
(4) After careful consideration of the entire record, I find
that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: work is limited
to one or two-step tasks with only occasional interaction
with the public.
(5) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 C.F.R. § 416.965).
(6) The claimant was born on December 5, 1957, and was 55
years old, which is defined as an individual of advanced age,
on the date the application was filed (20 C.F.R. §
(7) The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. § 416.964).
(8) Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or
not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41
and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
(9) Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20
C.F.R. § 416.969, 416.969(a)).
(10) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, since March 4, 2013, the date the
application was filed (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)).
only issues before the court are whether proper legal
standards were applied and whether the final decision of the
Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence.
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A), (H)(i), 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. §
facilitate a uniform and efficient processing of disability
claims, the Social Security Act has by regulation reduced the
statutory definition of “disability” to a series
of five sequential questions. An examiner must consider
whether the claimant (1) is engaged in substantial gainful
activity, (2) has a severe impairment, (3) has an impairment
that meets or medically equals an impairment contained in the
Listing of Impairments found at 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P,
App. 1, (4) can perform his past relevant work, and (5) can
perform other work. Id. § 416.920. If an
individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry
is unnecessary. Id. § 416.920(a)(4).
claimant must make a prima facie case of disability
by showing he is unable to return to his past relevant work
because of his impairments. Grant v. Schweiker, 699
F.2d 189, 191 (4th Cir. 1983). Once an individual
has established a prima facie case of disability,
the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that the
plaintiff can perform alternative work and that such work
exists in the national economy. Id. (citing 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)). The Commissioner may carry this
burden by obtaining testimony from a vocational expert.
Id. at 192.
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). “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.” Id. In reviewing
the evidence, the court may not “undertake to re-weigh
conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or
substitute [its] judgment for that of the
[Commissioner].” Id. Consequently, even if the
court disagrees with Commissioner's decision, the court
must uphold it if it is supported by substantial evidence.
Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775
(4th Cir. 1972).
plaintiff was born on December 5, 1957, and was 49 years old
on the alleged onset date of disability (January 1, 2007) and
57 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision (August
13, 2015). The plaintiff has an associate's degree from
Spartanburg Methodist College and past relevant work as an
electrician and an assembler (Tr. 23, 37, 39).
April 4, 2012, the plaintiff was treated in the emergency
room for complaints of chest pain. The plaintiff appeared to
be in moderate distress. He was diagnosed with rib fractures
and prescribed Lortab for pain (Tr. 254-61).
August 7, 2012, a nurse practitioner at New Horizon Family
Health Services evaluated the plaintiff to establish primary
care. The examiner noted that the plaintiff had a family
history of high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and neuropathy.
The plaintiff admitted to smoking. He complained of vision
changes, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, chest
pain, burn/indigestion, tremors, weakness in his limbs,
depressed mood, memory problems, anxiety, nervousness, joint
pain, and back pain. The examiner indicated that the
plaintiff had a history of concussions and had reportedly had
a stroke. The plaintiff was prescribed Lyrica for neuropathy
and Celexa for depression (Tr. 264-67).
December 29, 2012, the plaintiff was treated in the emergency
room for a head laceration. He underwent numerous diagnostic
tests, which showed mild degenerative changes of the cervical
spine. He was diagnosed with a head trauma (Tr. 271-76).
plaintiff was hospitalized from February 13 through 18, 2013,
for suicidal ideation. The plaintiff admitted that he had
been drinking again and that he was having thoughts of
jumping off of a bridge. The plaintiff reported that his
medication was not keeping his anxiety under control and that
he drank to dull his depression and pain. The plaintiff
indicated that his thoughts of suicide worsened when he
drank. The plaintiff was noted to have had multiple
concussions and a history of chronic back pain, chronic
headaches, chronic knee pain, chronic wrist pain, shortness
of breath, and problems with his vision. During his
admission, he participated in therapy and had medication
adjustments. He was noted to have suffered a fall on his
second to last day due to leg weakness. X-rays were taken,
which showed hypertrophic spurring in all three joint
compartments of his left knee and mild medial joint space
narrowing compatible with osteoarthritis as well as
osteochondroma arising from the lateral margin of the right
iliac wing of the left hip. At the time of discharge, the
plaintiff's mood was greatly improved. He continued to
have mildly pressured speech but was easily interruptible and
redirectable. His discharge diagnoses included major
depressive disorder, recurrent, severe, without psychotic
features; panic disorder; alcohol dependence; nicotine
dependence; cluster C features with cluster B; osteoarthritis
of the left lower extremity; degenerative disc disease; and a
Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) score of
20 at admission and 45-50 at discharge. He was prescribed
gabapentin, mirtazapine, Nicoderm patches, and Risperidone.
He was advised to follow up with a mental health clinic and
free medical clinic (Tr. 277-309).
13, 2013, the plaintiff had an initial mental health
assessment at the Spartanburg Area Mental Health Center. The
plaintiff reported having thoughts of suicide, but no intent.
The plaintiff felt that he was doing better. He was noted to
have a history of substance abuse and blackouts due to his
substance abuse. The plaintiff reported a history of head
injuries and multiple traumas and a possible stroke. He
reported chronic pain in his hands and feet due to broken
bones. It was noted that the plaintiff expressed that he
would be compliant with treatment. The plaintiff appeared
alert and oriented and was usually able to make sound
decisions. The plaintiff exhibited poor immediate memory and
was easily distracted. His sleeping, appetite, and energy
level were all adequate. The plaintiff was diagnosed with
alcohol dependence, rule out depression NOS and anxiety NOS;
a short term memory impairment; history of concussions;
degenerative disc disease; osteoarthritis; and a GAF score of
The plaintiff did not begin treatment through the clinic
because he was set to begin treatment through another
facility, and he was advised to obtain his medications
through New Horizon Family Health Services (“New
Horizon”) (Tr. 310-15).
21, 2013, Marcia Hayes, a nurse practitioner at New Horizon,
evaluated the plaintiff. Ms. Hayes noted that the plaintiff
had been in the hospital recently and was taking Risperdal,
Remeron, and gabapentin but was out of his medications. Ms.
Hayes diagnosed the plaintiff with subacute sensory
neuropathy and depression. She stated that he would need to
see a mental health specialist for treatment of his