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Garner v. Berryhill

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

June 21, 2018

AUTUMN GARNER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          MARY GORDON BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The Plaintiff, Autumn Garner, through counsel, brought this action to obtain judicial review of an unfavorable final administrative decision denying benefits on her April 16, 2013 application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”). This matter was referred to the United States 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). Having carefully considered the record, including the parties' briefs, the administrative record and the applicable authority, for the reasons stated herein, the undersigned recommends that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

         Procedural History and ALJ's Findings

         The Plaintiff was born on May 3, 1962, and was 50 years old on the alleged onset of disability date, October 1, 2005. (R. 197.) The Plaintiff filed SSI on April 16, 2013. (Id.) The Plaintiff claimed SSI due to arthritis, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and spinal stenosis. (R. 230.) The Plaintiff's claim was initially denied and denied on reconsideration. (R. 144-45, 155-56.) The Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held on September 28, 2015. (R. 44.) The Plaintiff was represented by counsel. The Plaintiff testified at the hearing, as well as a vocational expert (“VE”). The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a Decision denying SSI on January 26, 2016, and it is now the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. (R. 12-37.) The Plaintiff filed an appeal to the Appeals Council, which denied review. (R. 1-3.)

         In making the determination that the Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits, the Commissioner adopted the following findings of the ALJ's Decision:

(1) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 29, 2013, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
(2) The claimant has the following severe impairments: lumbar and lumbosacral degenerative disc disease and sacroiliitis; carpal tunnel syndrome; irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); chronic obstructive bronchitis; status post revision septorhinoplasty; borderline obesity; anxiety; depression; and polysubstance abuse in partial remission. (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
(3) 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 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
(4) After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) with the following additional limitations. The claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant can frequently climb ramps and stairs and can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant can have no exposure to unprotected heights. The claimant can frequently feel, finger, and handle bilaterally, and the claimant can frequently use both hand and foot controls bilaterally. The claimant can have frequent exposure to atmospheric conditions. The claimant can have frequent interaction with supervisors and co-workers and occasional interaction with the public. The claimant would be able to understand, remember, and carry out simple one or two step instructions or tasks, or detailed but uninvolved instructions or tasks, free of fast paced or team dependent production requirements, involving simple work-related decisions and occasional, if any, work place changes. The claimant can have no open exposure to accessible alcoholic substances such as work in a bar, brewery, or a liquor or beer distribution warehouse. The claimant can have no open exposure to controlled substances or prescription medications, such as work in a law enforcement evidence facility, forensic lab, pharmaceutical manufacturing plant, medical facility or pharmacy.
The claimant would be off task a maximum of ten percent of the workday, and the claimant would miss a maximum of one day of work per month.
(5) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
(6) The claimant was born on May 3, 1962 and was 50 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.963).
(7) The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 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 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
(9) Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
(10) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since March 29, 2013, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).

(R. 11-19.)

         Applicable Law

         The Act provides that SSI disability benefits shall be available for aged, blind, or disabled persons who have income and resources below a specific amount. 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et. seq.; 20 C.F.R. § 416.110. “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.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).

         To 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. § 416.920; see also Brown v. Comm'r, 873 F.3d 251, 254-55 (4th Cir. 2017). If an individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; see alsoHall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264 (4th Cir. 1981). The plaintiff “bears the burden of production and proof during the first four steps of the inquiry.” Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d ...


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