United States District Court, D. South Carolina
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Bristow Marchant United States Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff filed the complaint in this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner wherein he was denied disability
benefits. This case was referred to the undersigned for a
report and recommendation pursuant to Local Civil Rule
applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on March 31, 2014, alleging
disability beginning June 28, 2013 due to post traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD), bi-polar disorder, anxiety,
sinusitis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression,
drug addiction, and erectile dysfunction. (R.pp. 166, 173,
206, 942). Plaintiff subsequently amended his alleged onset
date to September 15, 2014. (R.pp. 930, 932). Plaintiff's
claims were denied both initially and upon reconsideration.
Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on December 4, 2015. ALJ
Ronald Sweeda thereafter denied Plaintiff's claims in a
decision issued January 8, 2016 (R.pp. 35-50, 1013-1020), and
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review. (R.pp. 1-7). Plaintiff appealed the decision to this
Court, and the decision was reversed and remanded by Order
dated March 24, 2017. (R.pp. 978-1002). Another hearing was
then held on on December 7, 2018, following which ALJ Sweeda
again denied Plaintiff's claims in a decision issued
January 22, 2018. (R.pp. 930-943, 949-977). The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, thereby
making the ALJ's decision of January 22, 2018 the final
decision of the Commissioner. (R.pp. 922-924).
then filed this action in United States District Court,
asserting that there is not substantial evidence to support
the ALJ's decision, and that the decision should be
reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings.
The Commissioner contends that the decision to deny benefits
is supported by substantial evidence, and that Plaintiff was
properly found not to be disabled.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court's scope of review is
limited to (1) whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the
ultimate conclusions reached by the Commissioner are legally
correct under controlling law. Hays v. Sullivan, 907
F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); Richardson v.
Califano, 574 F.2d 802, 803 (4th Cir. 1978); Myers
v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982-983 (4th Cir. 1980). If
the record contains substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's decision, it is the court's duty to
affirm the decision.
evidence has been defined as:
evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to
support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a
mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance. If there is evidence to justify refusal to
direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is
“substantial evidence.” [emphasis added].
Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (citing Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640 (4th Cir. 1966)); see also,
Hepp v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 798, 806 (8th
cir. 2008)[Noting that the substantial evidence standard is
even “less demanding than the preponderance of the
Court lacks the authority to substitute its own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Laws, 368 F.2d at 642. "[T]he
language of [405(g)] precludes a de novo judicial proceeding
and requires that the court uphold the [Commissioner's]
decision even should the court disagree with such decision as
long as it is supported by substantial evidence."
Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir.
who was fifty-two (52) years old when he alleges he became
disabled, has at least a high school education and past
relevant work experience as a land surveyor and a program
supervisor. (R.pp. 166, 942). On April 13, 2015, the
Department of Veterans Affairs found that Plaintiff was
“permanent and totally disabled effective
9/15/14” (Plaintiff's amended onset date). (R.p.
907). In order to be considered "disabled" within
the meaning of the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must show
that he has an impairment or combination of impairments which
prevent him from engaging in all substantial gainful activity
for which he is qualified by his age, education, experience
and functional capacity, and which has lasted or could
reasonably be expected to last for at least twelve (12)
review of the evidence and testimony in the case the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff does suffer from the
“severe” impairments of post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety,
thereby rendering him unable to perform any of his past
relevant work. (R.pp. 933, 942). Even so, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform a full range of work at all exertional
levels, limited to Plaintiff only being able to concentrate
sufficiently in two hour increments to perform simple,
repetitive tasks with no contact with the general public, no
work in a team setting, and no production pace work. (R.p.
934). After obtaining Vocational Expert (VE) testimony, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff was not entitled to disability
benefits because there were jobs that existed in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform with these limitations.
asserts that in reaching this decision the ALJ erred by
improperly relying on the testimony of the vocational expert
because there was a discrepancy between the jobs the VE
testified Plaintiff could perform and the requirements for
those jobs and because the VE's opinion was based on an
improper hypothetical. Plaintiff further argues that the ALJ
improperly evaluated the medical opinions of record. After
careful review and consideration of the evidence and
arguments presented, the undersigned is constrained to agree
with the ...