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Henry v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

March 25, 2019

Mary Briggs Henry, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Mary Briggs Henry brought this action pursuant to 42');">2');">2');">2 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). This matter is now before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) of United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West, made in accordance with 2');">2');">2');">28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rules 73.02');">2');">2');">2(B)(2');">2');">2');">2)(a) and 83.VII.02');">2');">2');">2 (D.S.C.). [ECF # 18]. The Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court affirm the decision of the Commissioner. This Court has thoroughly reviewed the record in this case and now issues the following Order.

         Statement of Facts and Procedural History

         This Court is tasked with reviewing the denial of Plaintiff's application for disability benefits. Plaintiff was born on September 12');">2');">2');">2, 1957. Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) on November 13, 2');">2');">2');">2015, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2');">2');">2');">2015. Plaintiff alleges she is disabled due to arthritis, insomnia, hypothyroidism, low levels of potassium and muscle spasms. [ECF #6-6, Ex. 2');">2');">2');">2E]. Briefly stated, Plaintiff suffered from low back pain and insomnia in 2');">2');">2');">2014. An MRI from July 11, 2');">2');">2');">2014 revealed mild to moderate multilevel degenerative disc disease and facet arthrosis. [ECF #6-7, Ex. 1F]. Another MRI performed on May 4, 2');">2');">2');">2017 revealed Plaintiff had a bulging at the L2');">2');">2');">2-L3 level, as well as bulging with facet joint arthropathy at the L4-L5 level. [ECF #6-8, Ex. 11F]. Throughout 2');">2');">2');">2014 and 2');">2');">2');">2015, Plaintiff received several medial branch blocks and underwent multiple radio frequency ablations. [ECF #6-7, Ex. 3F]. In March of 2');">2');">2');">2015, Plaintiff began physical therapy. [ECF #6-8, 4F].

         In 2');">2');">2');">2016, Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. James Vest, stated that Plaintiff's low back pain was not completely relieved with medication and opined that Plaintiff could sit zero to two hours and stand or walk for zero to two hours. Dr. Vest also stated Plaintiff could not sit continuously in a work setting. Dr. Vest stated Plaintiff could occasionally lift and/or carry less than ten pounds, rarely lift and carry ten pounds, never lift twenty or more pounds, and could not stoop, kneel, pull, push, or bend. Finally, Dr. Vest stated Plaintiff would be absent from work more than three times per month. [ECF #6-8, Ex. 7F]. Dr. India Kimeko Robinson evaluated Plaintiff on April 2');">2');">2');">22');">2');">2');">2, 2');">2');">2');">2016. Dr Robinson's records reveal decreased lumbar spine range of motion, worsening symptoms when walking and standing, positive Tinel's sign on the right, and a slow gait. [ECF #6-8, Ex. 9F]. A state medical examiner opined that Plaintiff could occasionally lift and/or carry twenty pounds, frequently lift and/or carry ten pounds, stand, walk, and sit about six hours of the workday, frequently climb ramps and stairs, and occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. [ECF #6-3, Ex. 3A].

         At the hearing, Plaintiff stated that on an average day, she would stand and/or walk for a total of two or three hours a day and sit about the same amount of time. [ECF #6-2');">2');">2');">2, pp. 51-54]. A vocational expert at the hearing classified Plaintiff's past work as that of a real estate agent, with acquired skills such as customer service, computer operations, recordkeeping, government forms, reference verification, document preparation, and sales. The vocational expert (“VE”) also stated that these skills transferred to such occupations as loan closer or real estate clerks, both sedentary positions. The VE stated that these positions would require very little vocational adjustment. [ECF #6-2');">2');">2');">2, pp. 60-61]. The ALJ concluded that based on the testimony of the vocational expert, he concluded that Plaintiff had acquired work skills from her past relevant work that were transferable to other occupations. [ECF #6-2');">2');">2');">2, p. 34].

         Her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. After she requested and was granted a hearing, the ALJ denied her claim on June 5, 2');">2');">2');">2017. Plaintiff's request for a review by the Appeals Council was eventually denied, making the findings and determination of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. The ALJ reviewed all of the medical history in the record, as well as Plaintiff's testimony at the hearing. The ALJ subsequently made several findings.

         The ALJ's findings were as follows:

(1) The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2');">2');">2');">2016.
(2');">2');">2');">2) The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset disability date of January 1, 2');">2');">2');">2015 through her date last insured of December 31, 2');">2');">2');">2016 (2');">2');">2');">20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
(3) Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe combination of impairments: degenerative disc disease (DDD) and obesity (2');">2');">2');">20 CFR 404.152');">2');">2');">20(c)).
(4) Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 2');">2');">2');">20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (2');">2');">2');">20 CFR 404.152');">2');">2');">20(d), 404.152');">2');">2');">25 and 404.152');">2');">2');">26).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform less than the full range of sedentary work as defined in 2');">2');">2');">20 CFR 404.1567(a) except that she can cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can perform other postural activities occasionally. The claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to heights and hazards.
(6) Through the date last insured, the claimant WAS unable to perform any past relevant work (2');">2');">2');">20 CFR 404.1565).
(7) The claimant was born on September 12');">2');">2');">2, 1957 and was 59 years old, which is defined as an individual of advanced age, on the date last insured (2');">2');">2');">20 CFR 404.1563).
(8)The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (2');">2');">2');">20 CFR 404.1564).
(9) The claimant has acquired work skills from past relevant work (2');">2');">2'); ...

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