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Stevenson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

May 31, 2019

Yolanda Juanita Stevenson, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This social security matter is before the court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to Local Civil Rule 83.VII.02 (D.S.C.). The plaintiff, Yolanda Juanita Stevenson, 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 her claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Having carefully considered the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court concludes that the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed.


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), (d)(5) and § 1382c(a)(3)(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. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(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 her past relevant work; and
(5) whether the claimant's impairments prevent her from doing any other kind of work.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(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 she is unable to return to her past relevant work because of her 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A)-(B); 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).


         In August 2014, Stevenson applied for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning December 31, 2008. Stevenson's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an ALJ. A hearing was held on February 7, 2017 at which Stevenson, who was represented by W. Blake Cummings, Esquire, appeared and testified. The ALJ also heard testimony from a vocational expert. Subsequent to the hearing, Stevenson amended her alleged disability onset date to March 1, 2014. The ALJ issued a decision on April 19, 2017 concluding that Stevenson was not disabled from March 1, 2014 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 12-20.)

         Stevenson was born in 1966 and was forty-seven years old at the time of her amended alleged disability onset date. She has an eighth-grade education and has past relevant work experience as a salesperson and a security guard. (Tr. 208.) Stevenson alleged disability due to depression, breathing problems, and high blood pressure. (Tr. 207.)

         In applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found that Stevenson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her amended alleged onset date of March 1, 2014. The ALJ also determined that Stevenson's history of affective disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety disorder were severe impairments. However, the ALJ found that Stevenson did not have 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 Stevenson retained the residual functional capacity to

perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks performed in a work environment free of fast-paced production requirements; involving only simple, work-related decisions; and few, if any, workplace changes. The claimant is capable of learning simple vocational tasks and completing them at an adequate pace with persistence in a vocational setting. She can perform simple tasks for two-hour blocks of time with normal rest breaks during an eight-hour workday with only occasional interaction with the public and co-workers.

(Tr. 16.) The ALJ found that Stevenson was unable to perform any past relevant work, but that considering Stevenson's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Stevenson could perform. Therefore, the ALJ found that ...

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