United States District Court, D. South Carolina
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
J. GOSSETT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
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, Dellana Watts, 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 her claims for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
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.
SECURITY DISABILITY GENERALLY
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), (d)(5) and §
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. §§
404.1505(a), 416.905(a); see also Blalock v.
Richardson, 483 F.2d 773 (4th Cir. 1973). The
regulations require the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) to consider, in sequence:
(1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
(2) whether the claimant has a “severe”
(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 her past relevant work;
(5) whether the claimant's impairments prevent her from
doing any other kind of work.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4). 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.
this analysis, a claimant has the initial burden of showing
that she is unable to return to her past relevant work
because of her 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. §§
423(d)(2)(A), 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).
November 2014, Watts applied for DIB and SSI, alleging
disability beginning October 15, 2014. Watts's
applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration,
and she requested a hearing before an ALJ. A hearing was held
on August 5, 2016 at which Watts, who was represented by
Jason L. Sturkie, Esquire, appeared and testified. After
hearing testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ issued a
decision on February 15, 2017 concluding that Watts was not
disabled from October 15, 2014 through the date of the
decision. (Tr. 14-25.)
was born in 1966 and was forty-eight years old at the time of
her alleged disability onset date. She has a high school
education and has past relevant work experience as an
inspector, a laborer at a chicken farm, a sales associate at
a convenience store, and a cashier/cook. (Tr. 228, 250.)
Watts alleged disability due to a pinched nerve, lower back
pain, and numbness in her left foot. (Tr. 227.)
applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found that
Watts had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
October 15, 2014-her alleged onset date. The ALJ also
determined that Watts's lumbar degenerative disc disease
status post spinal fusion; right knee degenerative joint
disease/osteoarthritis; hypothyroidism; and morbid obesity
status post bariatric surgery were severe impairments.
However, the ALJ found that Watts 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