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Ward v. Berryhill

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

March 13, 2019

Vernon Ward, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          KEVIN F. MCDONALD, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This 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 636(b)(1)(B).[1]

         The plaintiff brought this action pursuant to Section 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. 1383(c)(3)), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.

         ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         The plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits on April 15, 2014, alleging disability commencing August 24, 2007. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. On June 23, 2015, the plaintiff requested a hearing. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”), before whom the plaintiff and J. Adger Brown, Jr., an impartial vocational expert, appeared during a hearing on February 16, 2017, considered the case de novo, and on June 13, 2017, found that the plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, as amended (Tr. 7-26). 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 March 20, 2018 (Tr. 1-5). The plaintiff then filed this action for judicial review.

         In making the determination that the plaintiff is not entitled to benefits, the Commissioner has adopted the following findings of the ALJ:

(1) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 15, 2014, the application date (20 C.F.R. § 416.971 et. seq.)
(2) The claimant has the following severe impairments: schizophrenia, paranoid type; depressive disorder NOS; and history of substance abuse (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c)).
(3) The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
(4) After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: He is limited to unskilled work defined as performing simple, routine and/or repetitive tasks in 2-hour increments with customary breaks to complete an 8-hour workday. He is further limited to no work activity interaction with the public and no team-type interaction with coworkers; non-work activity incidental contact is allowed.
(5) The claimant has no past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § 416.965).
(6) The claimant was born on July 5, 1971, and was 42 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application was filed (20 C.F.R. § 416.963).
(7) The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. § 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 skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
(9) Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. § 416.969, 416.969(a)).
(10) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since April 15, 2014, the date the application was filed (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)).

         The 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.

         APPLICABLE LAW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 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. § 416.905(a).

         To 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. § 416.920. If an individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. § 416.920(a)(4).

         A 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.

         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). “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 ...


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