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Boyd v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

October 2, 2018

Cynthia W. Boyd, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This 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, Cynthia W. Boyd, 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”). Having carefully considered the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court concludes that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and the case remanded.


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) and (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); 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 activity;
(2) whether the claimant has a “severe” impairment;
(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; and
(5) whether the claimant's impairments prevent her from doing any other kind of work.

20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).[1] 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.

         Under 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); 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).


         In November 2013, Boyd applied for DIB, alleging disability beginning November 14, 2012. Boyd's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an ALJ. A hearing was held on July 26, 2016, at which Boyd, who was represented by Penny H. Cauley, Esquire, appeared and testified. After hearing testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ issued a decision on November 9, 2016, finding that Boyd was not disabled from November 14, 2012 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 21-35.)

         Boyd was born in 1962 and was forty-nine years old on her alleged disability onset date. She has a high-school education and has past relevant work experience as a nurse. (Tr. 245.) Boyd alleged disability due to asthma, dyspnea, depression, arthritis, thyroiditis, GERD, sinusitis, bronchitis, hypothyroidism, anxiety, osteoarthritis, chronic back and neck pain, and insomnia. (Tr. 244.)

         In applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found that Boyd had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of November 14, 2012. The ALJ determined that Boyd's asthma, anxiety, and depression were severe impairments. However, the ALJ found that Boyd 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 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“the “Listings”). The ALJ found, after consideration of the entire record, that Boyd retained the residual functional capacity to

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she is limited to frequent sitting, standing and walking; frequent gross manipulation with the bilateral upper extremities; occasional climbing of ramps/stairs and ladders, ropes and scaffolding; occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling; and no concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants (concentrated dusts, odors, fumes, etc.) or humidity or wetness. She [] can perform simple routine and ...

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