United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division
Tina W. Earles, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE
F. MCDONALD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
case is before the court for a report and recommendation
pursuant to Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a)(D.S.C.),
concerning the disposition of Social Security cases in this
District, and Title 28, United States Code, Section
plaintiff brought this action pursuant to Sections 205(g) and
1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C.
405(g) and 1383(c)(3)), to obtain judicial review of a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her
claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income benefits under Titles II and XVI of the
Social Security Act.
plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) benefits on July 24, 2014. In both
applications, the plaintiff alleged that she became unable to
work on September 30, 2013. She subsequently amended her
alleged onset date to June 1, 2014 (Tr. 195). Both
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration by
the Social Security Administration. On December 22, 2014, the
plaintiff requested a hearing. The administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), before whom the plaintiff and Carey A.
Washington, an impartial vocational expert, appeared on
December 16, 2016, considered the case de novo, and
on January 13, 2017, found that the plaintiff was not under a
disability as defined in the Social Security Act, as amended
(Tr. 20-29). The ALJ's finding became the final decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security when the Appeals
Council denied the plaintiff's request for review on
September 28, 2017 (Tr. 1-4). The plaintiff then filed this
action for judicial review.
making the determination that the plaintiff is not entitled
to benefits, the Commissioner has adopted the following
findings of the ALJ:
(1) The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2019.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since June 1, 2014, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R
§§ 404.1571 et seq., 416.971 et
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments: spinal
disorder, left shoulder impingement status post August 2016
surgery, right trochanteric bursitis, left knee synovitis
status post September 2013 surgery, meralgia paresthetica,
and obesity (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 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 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525,
416.920(d), 416.925, 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 C.F.R. §§
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) with additional functional
limitations. The claimant can occasionally climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds, kneel, and crouch. She can frequently
climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, and crawl. She can
frequently overhead reach bilaterally within the exertional
level. Handling and fingering can be performed frequently on
the non-dominant left. She can occasionally be exposed to
hazards associated with unprotected, dangerous machinery or
unprotected heights. She can maintain concentration,
persistence, and pace to understand, remember, and carry out
simple, routine tasks, in a low stress work environment
(defined as being free of fast- paced or team-dependent
production requirements), involving simple work-related
decisions, occasional independent judgment skills, and
occasional workplace changes.
(6) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565, 416.965).
(7) The claimant was born on February 15, 1970, and was 44
years old, which is defined as a younger individual age
18-49, on the alleged disability onset date. (20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1563, 416.963).
(8) The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. §§
(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 C.F.R. 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 C.F.R. §§
404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, 416.969(a)).
(11) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from June 1, 2014, through the
date of this decision (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g),
only issues before the court are whether proper legal
standards were applied and whether the final decision of the
Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), (d)(5) and §
1382c(a)(3)(A), (H)(i), 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. §§
facilitate a uniform and efficient processing of disability
claims, the Social Security 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
that meets or medically equals an impairment contained in the
Listing of Impairments found at 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P,
App. 1, (4) can perform his past relevant work, and (5) can
perform other work. Id. §§ 404.1520,
416.920. If an individual is found not disabled at any step,
further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. §§
claimant must make a prima facie case of disability
by showing he is unable to return to his past relevant work
because of his impairments. Grant v. Schweiker, 699
F.2d 189, 191 (4th Cir. 1983). Once an individual
has established a prima facie case of disability,
the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that the
plaintiff can perform alternative work and that such work
exists in the national economy. Id. (citing 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)). The Commissioner may carry this
burden by obtaining testimony from a vocational expert.
Id. at 192.
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the court may review the
Commissioner's denial of benefits. However, this review
is limited to considering whether the Commissioner's
findings “are supported by substantial evidence and
were reached through application of the correct legal
standard.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589
(4th Cir. 1996). “Substantial evidence” means
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it consists of
more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat
less than a preponderance.” Id. In reviewing
the evidence, the court may not “undertake to re-weigh
conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or
substitute [its] judgment for that of the
[Commissioner].” Id. Consequently, even if the
court disagrees with Commissioner's decision, the court
must uphold it if it is supported by substantial evidence.
Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775
(4th Cir. 1972).