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Williams v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

October 29, 2018

Keith Williams, 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, Keith Williams, 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 his 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 his past relevant work; and
(5) whether the claimant's impairments prevent him 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 he is unable to return to his past relevant work because of his 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 April 2013, Williams applied for DIB, alleging disability beginning December 15, 2012. Williams later amended his alleged onset date to August 23, 2013. Williams's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and he requested a hearing before an ALJ. A video hearing was held on July 11, 2016, at which Williams, who was represented by Brett Owens, Esquire, appeared and testified. After hearing testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ issued a decision on July 26, 2016, finding that Williams was not disabled from August 23, 2013 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 11-21.)

         Williams was born in 1967 and was forty-six years old on his alleged disability onset date. He has a college education and has past relevant work experience as an electrician in the U.S. Navy, a security guard, and a mail carrier with the U.S. Postal Service. (Tr. 156.) Williams alleged disability due to post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). (Tr. 155.)

         In applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found that Williams had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his amended alleged onset date of August 23, 2013. The ALJ determined that Williams's status post remote bilateral rotator cuff surgeries and asthma were severe impairments. However, the ALJ found that Williams 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 Williams retained the residual functional capacity to

to lift/carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently, stand/walk for six hours and sit for six hours during an eight hour workday; can frequently stoop, climb, kneel, crouch, and crawl; unlimited balancing; should avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, dust, gases, and poor ventilation; and avoid concentrated exposure to work hazards such as working on vibratory machinery and at dangerous heights. The claimant can only occasionally do overhead reaching with either upper extremity and he can ...

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