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Gilmore v. Berryhill

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

March 29, 2019

Samantha Jeanne Gilmore, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          R. Bryan Harwell, United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) of United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West. [ECF No. 21]. The Magistrate Judge recommends the Court affirm Acting Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's (the “Commissioner”) decision denying Plaintiff Samantha Jeanne Gilmore's claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to the Social Security Act of 1935, 42 U.S.C. § 401-433, (the “Act”).


         Unless otherwise noted, the following background is drawn from the R&R.

         A. rocedural History

         On November 19, 2014, Gilmore filed an application for DIB, alleging her disability began on October 1, 2013. The Social Security Administration denied her claim initially and on reconsideration. Gilmore requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and ALJ Ethan A. Chase held a hearing on September 8, 2016.

         The ALJ issued a decision on January 13, 2017, finding that Gilmore was not disabled under the Act. The Appeals Council denied Gilmore's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final action of the Commissioner. On January 5, 2018, Gilmore filed this action seeking review of the ALJ's decision. The Magistrate Judge issued the R&R on January 14, 2019, recommending that the Court affirm the ALJ's decision. On January 29, 2019, Gilmore filed late objections to the R&R [ECF No. 24] and contemporaneously filed a motion for an extension of time to filed the objections, which the Court granted. On February 6, 2019, the Commissioner responded to Gilmore's objections. [ECF No. 29]. The matter is now ripe for the Court's review.

         B. Medical History

         Because Gilmore's medical history is not directly at issue here, the Court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and instead notes a few relevant facts. Gilmore was born on April 27, 1973, and was 43 years old on the date last insured. Tr. 34. She communicates in English and completed high school but has no other degree. Id. Her past relevant work experience was as a day care worker, a cashier, and a grocery cashier. Id.

         C. ALJ's Findings

         The Act defines “disability” as the “inability to engage in 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505. The Social Security regulations establish a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Under this process, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant: (1) is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment which equals an illness contained in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1, which warrants a finding of disability without considering vocational factors; (4) if not, whether the claimant has an impairment which prevents her from performing past relevant work; and (5) if so, whether the claimant is able to perform other work considering both her remaining physical and mental capacities (defined by her residual functional capacity) and her vocational capabilities (age, education, and past work experience) to adjust to a new job. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264-65 (4th Cir. 1981). The applicant bears the burden of proof during the first four steps of the inquiry, while the burden shifts to the Commissioner for the final step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995) (citing Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 35 (4th Cir. 1992)).

         The ALJ employed the five-step analysis to determine whether Gilmore was disabled from October 1, 2013, through the date last insured, December 31, 2016. Tr. 27. The ALJ first determined that Gilmore did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period at issue. Id. At the second step, the ALJ found that Gilmore suffered from the following severe impairments: cervical degenerative disc disease, tremor, and headaches. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that Gilmore's impairments or combination of impairments did not meet or equal one of the listed impairments in the Agency's Listings of Impairments. Tr. 29; see 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined Gilmore had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work with several limitations. Specifically, the ALJ found that Gilmore: (1) could lift and carry up to ten pounds occasionally and lesser amounts frequently, sit for six hours in an eight-hour day, and stand and walk occasionally; (2) could perform postural activities frequently but could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (3) could frequently reach, handle, and finger, but only occasionally reach overhead; and (4) needed to avoid bright and flashing lights or similar visual stimuli and avoid no more than a moderate noise level. Tr. 30. At step four, the ALJ found that Gilmore was not capable of performing her past relevant work because the physical demands of those jobs exceeded her RFC. Tr. 34. Finally, at step five, the ALJ determined that, considering Gilmore's age, education, work experience, and RFC, she could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, concluding that she was not disabled during the period at issue. Tr. 35-36.

         Standards of Review

         A. ...

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