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Wilson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

February 20, 2019

Bobby Gene Wilson, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          PAIGE J. GOSSETT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This social security matter is before the court 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, Bobby Gene Wilson, Jr., 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 affirmed.

         SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY GENERALLY

         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).

         ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         In 2013, Wilson applied for DIB, alleging disability beginning May 12, 2011. Wilson's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and he requested a hearing before an ALJ. A hearing was held on March 1, 2017, at which Wilson, who was represented by Brett Owens, Esquire, appeared and testified. After hearing testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ issued a decision on March 28, 2017 finding that Wilson was not disabled from his alleged onset date of May 12, 2011 through his date last insured of June 30, 2012.[2] (Tr. 15-27.)

         Wilson was born in 1975 and was thirty-six years old on his date last insured. He has a tenth-grade education and has past relevant work experience as a builder and a roofer. (Tr. 216.) Wilson alleged disability due to neuritis lumbosacral, a bulging disc, and degenerative disc disease. (Tr. 215.)

         In applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found that Wilson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of May 12, 2011 through his date last insured of June 30, 2012. The ALJ determined that, through the date last insured, Wilson's degenerative disc disease and kidney cyst were severe impairments. However, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Wilson had not had 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, through the date last insured, Wilson retained the residual functional capacity to

lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; with the ability to sit for six hours in an eight-hour shift; stand and/or walk for six hours out of an eight-hour shift; with alternating between standing and sitting every 60 minutes; limited to occasionally climbing ramps and stairs; occasionally climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; limited to simple routine tasks; and limited to frequent interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the public.

(Tr. 23.) The ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Wilson was unable to perform any past relevant work, but that considering Wilson's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Wilson could have performed. Therefore, the ALJ found that Wilson had not been disabled from the alleged onset date of May 12, 2011 through the date last insured of June 30, 2012.

         The Appeals Council denied Wilson's request for review on January 26, 2018, making the decision of the ALJ the final action of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-5.) This action followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant 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); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). Thus, the court may review only whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied. See Brown v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 873 F.3d 251, 267 (4th Cir. 2017); Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982 (4th Cir. 1980). “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.” Craig, 76 F.3d at 589; see also Pearson v. Colvin, 810 F.3d 204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015). 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].” Craig, 76 F.3d at 589; see also Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012). Accordingly, even if the court disagrees with the Commissioner's decision, the court must uphold it if it is supported by substantial evidence. Blalock, 483 F.2d at 775.

         ISSUES

         Wilson raises the following issues for this judicial review:

I. Did the ALJ err by applying administrative res judicata to bar Plaintiff's medical evidence from prior to March 7, 2012?
II. Did the ALJ's reliance on evidence from the period barred by administrative res judicata constitute a reopening of the evidence for consideration?
III. Did the ALJ err in finding that Plaintiff's spinal disorders failed to rise to the level of severity to meet the requirements of Listing 1.04?
IV. Did the ALJ err in concluding that Plaintiff does not suffer from a combination of impairments that meet or medically equal [] the severity of one of the listed impairments?
V. Did the ALJ err in failing to properly weigh the evidence presented by Plaintiff's treating physicians regarding ...

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