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Baker v. Berryhill

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

July 16, 2018

NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Heather Baker, on behalf of her now deceased husband and through counsel, brought this action to obtain judicial review of an unfavorable final administrative decision denying benefits on William Dale Baker's May 1, 2013 applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and 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 reversed and remanded for a new hearing.

         Procedural History and ALJ's Findings

         The Plaintiff was born June 30, 1964, and was 47 years old on the alleged onset of disability date, February 19, 2012.[1] (R. 179, 191.) The Plaintiff filed for DIB and SSI May 1, 2013. (Id.) The Plaintiff claimed disability due to diabetes and related symptoms, joint problems, and hypertension. (R. 66.) The Plaintiff's claims were initially denied and denied on reconsideration. (R.126, 137.) The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on February 18, 2015. (R. 53.) The ALJ issued his Decision on April 2, 2015, finding that the Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (R. 35-47.) The Plaintiff died the same day. (R. 26-28.) The Plaintiff's wife, Heather Baker, now appears as a substitute party. (Id.)

         Ms. Baker appealed the ALJ's Decision to the Appeals Council (“AC”). (R. 18.) The AC partially reversed the ALJ's Decision, finding that the Plaintiff was limited to sedentary work and disabled as of June 29, 2014, when the Plaintiff turned fifty (50) years old. (R. 5-9.) Therefore, the appeal now before the court concerns only the denial of benefits from February 19, 2012, through June 28, 2014. (Dkt. Nos. 18 at 2; 19 at 2; R. 6.)

         As to the period relevant for this appeal, 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 April 2, 2015 Decision:

(1) The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 19, 2012, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments: obesity; skin ulcers; diabetes with neuropathy; anxiety disorder; and major depressive disorder. (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 residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). Specifically, the claimant can lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently and stand, walk, and sit for 6 hours each in an 8-bour work day; however, the claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can frequently kneel and occasionally climb ramps and stairs, crouch, and crawl. The claimant is limited to jobs that can be performed while using a hand-held assistive device only for uneven terrain or prolonged ambulation. He must avoid concentrated exposure to excessive vibration, extreme heat, wetness or humidity, and unprotected heights. Additionally, the claimant is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks with only occasional interaction with the 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 June 30, 1964 and was 47 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date. The claimant subsequently changed age category to closely approaching advanced age. (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
(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 residual functional capacity, 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 February 19, 2012, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f)).

(R. 35-47.)

         Applicabl ...

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