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Milford v. Berryhill

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

May 14, 2018

Nehemiah Tony Milford, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Kevin F. McDonald, United States Magistrate Judge

         This 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 636(b)(1)(B).

         The plaintiff brought this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. 405(g)) to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.

         ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         The plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) on August 9, 2013, alleging that he became unable to work on June 23, 2013. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. On February 27, 2014, the plaintiff requested a hearing. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”), before whom the plaintiff and Arthur F. Schmitt, Ph.D., an impartial vocational expert, appeared on October 21, 2015, considered the case de novo and, on November 19, 2015, found that the plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, as amended (Tr. 21-34). 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 February 15, 2017 (Tr. 1-6). The plaintiff then filed this action for judicial review.

         In making the determination that the plaintiff is not entitled to benefits, the Commissioner has adopted the following findings of the ALJ:

(1) Claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017.
(2) Claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 23, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. § 404.1571 et seq).
(3) Claimant has the following severe impairments: hearing loss not treated with cochlear implantation, diabetes mellitus, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)).
(4) Claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R § 404.1567(c) with some additional limitations. Specifically, claimant can lift and carry up to 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently. He can sit, stand, and walk frequently. He can work in an environment that does not require fine hearing. Claimant can have no exposure to loud noise. He can have no concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants.
(6) Claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a security guard. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by claimant's residual functional capacity (20 C.F.R. § 404.1565).
(7) Claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 23, 2013, through the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f)).

         The 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.

         APPLICABLE LAW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), (d)(5), 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. § 404.1505(a).

         To 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. § 404.1520. If an individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4).

         A 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.

         Pursuant 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).

         EVIDENCE PRESENTED

         The plaintiff was born on May 19, 1962, and was 51 years old on the alleged onset date of disability (June 23, 2013) and 53 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision (November 19, 2015). The plaintiff has a high school education, served four years in the United States ...


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