United States District Court, D. South Carolina
MGB REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
GORDON BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Rhonda Lynn Herndon, through counsel, brought this action to
obtain judicial review of an unfavorable final administrative
decision denying benefits on her December 2, 2013 application
for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
December 13, 2013 application for Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act
(“Act”). See Section 205(g) of the SSA,
as amended, 42 U.S.C. Section 405(g). This matter was
referred to the Magistrate Judge for a Report and
Recommendation pursuant to Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C.,
and Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1)(B). For
the reasons stated herein, the undersigned recommends that
the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.
History and ALJ's Findings
Plaintiff was born August 17, 1973 and was 34 years old on
the alleged onset of disability date, April 21, 2008. (R.
186.) The Plaintiff filed for DIB on December 2, 2013, and
SSI on December 13, 2013. (R. 186, 188.) The Plaintiff
claimed disability due to high blood pressure, depression,
anxiety neurosis, chronic kidney disease, chest pain,
hypotension, syncope, acute kidney injury, bipolar disorder,
and obesity. (R. 210.) The Plaintiff's claims were
initially denied and denied on reconsideration. (R. 133-40,
144-51.) Following a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ) denied her claim on March 9, 2016. (R. 10-27.) The
Plaintiff has exhausted her administrative remedies. The
ALJ's decision is now the Commissioner's final action
for purposes of judicial review. In making the determination
that the Plaintiff is not entitled to benefits, the
Commissioner adopted the following findings of the ALJ's
March 9, 2016 Decision:
(1) The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2013.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since April 21, 2008, the alleged onset date (20 CFR
404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments:
obesity, hypertension, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, and
history of substance abuse disorder in remission (20 CFR
404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
(4) The 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 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526,
416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, I find
that the claimant has the RFC to perform light work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that she
is limited to simple, routine tasks for two-hour blocks of
time with normal rest breaks during an eight-hour work day.
She is limited to low stress work with occasional
decisionmaking [sic] and occasional changes in the work
setting, and occasional interaction with the general public.
(6) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
(7) The claimant was born on August 17, 1973 and was 34 years
old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on
the alleged disability onset date. (20 CFR 404.1563 and
(8) The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
(9) 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 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
(10) Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform
(20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
(11) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from April 21, 2008, through the
date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).
provides that disability benefits shall be available to those
persons insured for benefits, who are not of retirement age,
who properly apply, and who are under a
“disability.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(a). The Act
also provides that SSI disability benefits shall be available
for aged, blind, or disabled persons who have income and
resources below a specific amount. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 1381 et seq. “Disability” is
defined in the Act as the inability to “engage in 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” twelve months. See 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A) (definition used in the DIB context); 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382c(a)(3)(A) (definition used in the SSI
facilitate a uniform and efficient processing of disability
claims, the 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 which equals
an illness contained in the Administration's official
Listing of Impairments found at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1, (4) has an impairment which prevents past
relevant work, and (5) has an impairment which prevents him
from doing substantial gainful employment. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520 (DIB context); 20 C.F.R. §
416.920 (SSI context). If an individual is found not disabled
at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) (DIB context); 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4) (SSI context); see also Hall v.
Harris, 658 F.2d 260 (4th Cir. 1981).
plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act if
she can return to past relevant work as it is customarily
performed in the economy or as the claimant actually
performed the work. See SSR 82-62, 1982 WL 31386, at
*3. The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing her
inability to work within the meaning of the Act. 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(5); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(H)(i). She
must make a prima facie showing of disability by
showing that she is unable to return to her past relevant
work. Grant v. Schweiker, 699 F.2d 189, 191 (4th
Cir. 1983); see also Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200,
1203 (4th Cir. 1995).
individual has established an inability to return to her past
relevant work, the burden is on the Commissioner to come
forward with evidence that the plaintiff can perform
alternative work and that such work exists in the regional
economy. See Grant, 699 F.2d at 191. The
Commissioner may carry the burden of demonstrating the
existence of jobs available in the national economy which the
plaintiff can perform despite the existence of impairments
which prevent the return to past relevant work by obtaining
testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”).
Id. at 191-92.
scope of judicial review by the federal courts in disability
cases is narrowly tailored to determine whether the findings
of the Commissioner “are supported by substantial
evidence and whether the correct law was applied.”
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
1990); see also Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389
(1971); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).
Consequently, the Act precludes a de novo review of
the evidence and requires the court to uphold the
Commissioner's decision as long as it is supported by
substantial evidence. Pyles v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 846,
848 (4th Cir. 1988) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir.
1986)). The phrase “substantial evidence” is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. Substantial evidence
consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be
less than a preponderance.
Smith v. Chater, 99 F.3d 635, 637-38 (4th Cir. 1996)
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
it is the duty of this Court to give careful scrutiny to the
whole record to assure that there is a sound foundation for
the Commissioner's findings, and that her conclusion is
rational. Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543
(4th Cir. 1964). If there is substantial evidence to support
the decision of the Commissioner, ...