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Sturkin v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

January 17, 2019

Darryl K. Sturkin, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This social security matter is before the court for the third time-and after six hearings before administrative law judges-pursuant to Local Civil Rule 83.VII.02 (D.S.C.) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) for final adjudication, with the consent of the parties, of the plaintiff's petition for judicial review. The plaintiff, Darryl K. Sturkin, 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 reverses the decision of the Commissioner and remands the matter to the agency with instructions to award benefits.


         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 June 2007, Sturkin applied for DIB, alleging disability beginning April 15, 2005. Sturkin's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and he requested a hearing before an ALJ. A hearing was held via video conference on October 8, 2009, at which Sturkin, who was represented by Christi B. McDaniel, Esquire, appeared and testified. The ALJ issued a decision on November 18, 2009 finding that Sturkin was not disabled. (Tr. 84-91.)

         The Appeals Council granted Sturkin's request for review and issued an Order on March 22, 2010 vacating the hearing decision and remanding the case for further proceedings.

         A second hearing was held via video conference on August 18, 2010, at which Sturkin appeared and testified. Sturkin continued to be represented by Christi B. McDaniel, Esquire. The ALJ issued a decision on September 23, 2010 finding that Sturkin was disabled during the closed period from April 15, 2005 to March 28, 2007, with medical improvement thereafter. (Tr. 11-22.) The Appeals Council denied Sturkin's request for review, and Sturkin appealed to the United States District Court.

         In December 2010, during the pendency of his appeal, Sturkin filed a new claim for DIB, alleging disability beginning September 24, 2010. Sturkin's new application was denied initially, upon reconsideration, and following a hearing before an ALJ in an opinion issued July 9, 2012. (Tr. 1004-14.) On August 21, 2012, upon motion of the Commissioner and with consent of Sturkin's counsel, the district court vacated the ALJ's September 23, 2010 decision and remanded Sturkin's claim for further consideration. (Tr. 1019.) Specifically, this matter was remanded for a de ...

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