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Johnson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

April 11, 2018

Vernon E. Johnson, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PAIGE J. GOSSETT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This social security matter is before the court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to Local Civil Rule 83.VII.02 (D.S.C.). The plaintiff, Vernon E. Johnson, 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 his claims for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Having carefully considered the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court concludes that the Commissioner's decision should be remanded for further consideration as explained below.

         SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY GENERALLY

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(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. § 416.905(a); see also Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773 (4th Cir. 1973). The regulations generally 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 his past relevant work; and
(5) whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from doing any other kind of work.

20 C.F.R. § 416.920(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 he is unable to return to his past relevant work because of his 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A)-(B); 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).

         ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         In August 2013, Johnson applied for SSI, alleging disability beginning August 27, 2011. Johnson's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and he requested a hearing before an ALJ. A hearing was held on July 30, 2015, at which Johnson and his roommate appeared and testified. Johnson was represented at the hearing by Nowell S. Lesser, Esquire. The ALJ issued a decision on September 21, 2015, finding that Johnson had not been disabled since August 30, 2013-the date the application was filed. (Tr. 14-26.)

         Johnson was born in 1963 and was fifty years old on his disability onset date. (Tr. 24.) He has a tenth-grade education and has past relevant work experience as a painter and metal framer in construction. (Tr. 184.) Johnson alleged disability due to panic attacks, depression, bipolar disorder, sciatica in his neck, arthritis in his back, degenerative disc disease, hepatitis C, and high blood pressure. (Tr. 183.)

         In applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found that Johnson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since Johnson's application was filed on August 30, 2013. The ALJ also determined that Johnson's degenerative disc disease, cirrhosis/hepatitis C, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder were severe impairments. However, the ALJ found that Johnson 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 ...


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