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Holmes v. Acting Commissioner of The Social Security Administration

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

December 27, 2018

Duron Holmes, Plaintiff,
Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Duron Holmes (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's claim for supplemental security income (“SSI”) pursuant to the Social Security Act (the “Act”). The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) for the District of South Carolina. The Magistrate Judge recommends the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision. [ECF #17]. Plaintiff filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation. [ECF #19]. Defendant responded to these objections. [ECF #22].

         Factual Findings and Procedural History

         Plaintiff was born on June 2, 1965 and was fifty years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. He alleges an onset disability date starting on May 1, 2012');">12. [ECF #12');">12, p. 3]. Plaintiff alleges disability due to chronic back pain, pain in his right arm and wrist, anxiety, depression, dizziness when standing, diabetes, and hypothyroidism. [ECF #10-7, Ex. B2E]. Plaintiff also alleges mental impairments, including anxiety, depression, vertigo, pain, and worsening issues with balance. According to Plaintiff's medical records and testimony, it appears that during October of 2008, Plaintiff had a CT scan of his right wrist which showed degenerative changes, as well as degenerative changes in the disc spaces in his lower back and thoracic spine. [ECF #10-9, Ex. B1F]. Plaintiff continued to experience back pain during treatment. Dr. Stephen Worsham noted in his records that Plaintiff suffered a non-displaced T12');">12 fracture due to a car accident in 2008. [ECF #10-9, Ex. B1F]. Plaintiff's medical records further indicate he suffered from intermittent psoriasis and arthritis of the knees, hips, and wrist. [ECF #10-9, Ex. B1F]. Lab results from August of 2011 indicate a onset of hypothyroidism. [ECF #10-9, Ex. B1F]. In 2012');">12, Dr. Worsham continued to treat Plaintiff for issues related to these medical problems. [ECF #10-9, Ex. B1F]. Dr. Worsham later assessed Plaintiff as being morbidly obese and noted that Plaintiff had not been compliant in monitoring and recording his blood sugars or adhering to his dietary restrictions, although he had previously lost some weight. [ECF #10-9, Ex. B1F]. On July 27, 2012');">12, an MRI revealed degenerative changes in Plaintiff's back and an old fracture of the L1 vertebral body.[ECF #10-9, Ex. B1F]. At a follow up visit a few months later, Plaintiff described difficulties related to his arthritis, and Dr. Worsham noted that Plaintiff was not compliant with checking his blood sugars, though Plaintiff was borderline diabetic. [ECF #10-9, Ex. B1F]. On January 22, 2013, Plaintiff underwent an oximetry study after having been previously evaluated by Dr. Gordon Early. Dr. Early diagnosed Plaintiff with obstructive sleep apnea, chronic back pain, and polyarthritis. [ECF #10-10, Ex. B13F]. Plaintiff's oximetry study qualified him for oxygen using Medicare guidelines. [ECF #10-10, Ex. B13F].

         Dr. Early provided a statement indicating that he thought Plaintiff could do work “more substantial” than intermittent sedentary work.[1] Dr. Early further indicated that Plaintiff would most likely qualify for a CPAP machine if he underwent a formal sleep study, and if his obstructive sleep apnea were treated, his somnolence and impaired mentation would improve. [ECF #10-10, Ex. B15F]. On November 14, 2013, Dr. Benjamin Bailey evaluated Plaintiff and noted his previous history included diabetes mellitus, hypertension, hypothyroidism, hyperlipidemia, psoriasis, chronic pain, and arthritis. [ECF #10-10, Ex. B6F]. Dr. Bailey continued to treat Plaintiff through 2014 for issues related to psoriasis and continued pain in his back, wrist and shoulder. Dr. Bailey completed a statement form dated March 25, 2015, indicating a primary disability diagnosis due to chronic pain and that his disability was “permanent.” [ECF #10-10, Ex. B7F]. He further provided a letter dated October 6, 2015, explaining that he has treated Plaintiff since November 2013 and diagnosed him with chronic pain. Dr. Bailey also indicated that Plaintiff's financial situation made it difficult for him to arrange a sleep study. [ECF #10-10, Ex. B11F]. Dr. Stuart Barnes performed a consultative examination of Plaintiff and diagnosed him with chronic back pain, obesity, anxiety, depression, and psoriasis. [ECF #10-9, Ex. B3F]. Dr. Rebecca L. Sorrow performed a mental status evaluation at the Commissioner's request. Dr. Sorrow diagnosed Plaintiff with persistent depressive disorder and alcohol dependence in sustained remission. [ECF #10-9, Ex. B4F]. At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that he uses a walking cane when he goes to Walmart to pick up his medications. He further testified that he tries to help around the house when his back is not causing him pain, that he no longer leaves the house to shop, and that he spends his time watching television or using his laptop. He testified that his pain is triggered by sitting or standing too long. He also described his issues with depression.

         On August 22, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed for SSI under Title XVI of the Act. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application initially and on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim on May 10, 2016, finding that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, as amended. [ECF #10-2, R. 45]. The ALJ's findings were as follows:

(1) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 22, 2013, the application date. (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
(2) The claimant has the following severe impairments: lumbosacral degenerative disc disease with spondylolisthesis; status post fracture of L1 vertebral body; right wrist degenerative joint disease and status post right arm open reduction internal fixation (ORIF); obesity; psoriasis; sleep apnea; reactive airway disease; intellectual disorder; anxiety; and, depression (20 CFR 416.920©).
(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 C.F.R. 416.967(b) with the following additional limitations. He can sit or stand at will consistent with the exertional level while remaining at the workstation, provided that each period of sitting or standing is at least fifteen minutes. He requires a handheld assistive device (such as a cane) to ambulate over narrow, slippery, or erratically moving surfaces, or for ascending or descending slopes, but the handheld assistive device would not be necessary for standing. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl, kneel, and balance. He can have no exposure to workplace hazards such as unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts. He can frequently reach, both overhead and in all other directions, with the dominant right upper extremity. He can frequently handle, finger, and feel with the dominant right hand. He can frequently use hand controls on the right. He can occasionally use foot controls bilaterally. He can have occasional exposure to atmospheric conditions. He can have no open exposure to toxic or caustic chemicals. He can frequently interact with supervisors and coworkers and occasionally interact with the public. He is 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, workplace changes. He would be off task a maximum of ten percent of the workday.
(5) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
(6) The claimant was born on June 2, 1965 and was 48 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application was filed. The claimant subsequently changed age category to closely approaching advanced age (20 CFR 416.963).
(7) The claimant has a limited 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 ...

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