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Johnson v. Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

June 27, 2019

Darris Johnson, Plaintiff,
v.
Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Darris Johnson (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) for the District of South Carolina. The Magistrate Judge recommends the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision. [ECF #16].

         Factual Findings and Procedural History

         On October 10, 2012, Johnson applied for DIB, alleging disability due to arthritis, spurs in the back of his neck and his spine, pain, high blood pressure, and muscle spasms. Within his application, he alleges a disability onset date of February 1, 2012. The medical evidence of record reveals that Johnson underwent a cervical MRI on June 22, 2012, which showed that Johnson exhibited signs of degenerative stenosis. Additional objective testing from that year indicated cervical spine issues. Johnson's medical records indicate that he complained of pain in his neck and upper right extremity. He participated in physical therapy to help alleviate this pain. In early 2013, Johnson continued to report pain in his neck radiating down his right side. Dr. Michael Davis performed a consultative exam in 2013 and found that Johnson had significant radicular symptoms involving his right arm and shoulder and would be limited in his ability to lift and carry more than ten pounds with his right arm, and limited in his ability to perform climbing and reaching, handling, fingering, or feeling on his right side. [Tr. 456-459; Ex. 3F]. Two medical consultants with the Administration (Dr. Van Slooten and Dr. Thomson) completed a physical residual functional capacity assessment and found that Johnson was capable of medium work with certain postural and manipulative limitations. [Tr. 129-131; 140-142; Ex. 1A and 3A]. Johnson also reported pain in his left scapular region in 2013, as well as pain in his back. On April 14, 2014, an evaluation by Cherrie Thomas, a physician's assistant with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (“VAMC”) revealed that Johnson continued to suffer from left scapular pain and back pain. She also noted that he was trying to receive an advanced certificate related to his heating and air conditioning technician job, a job which required heaving lifting. A thoracic x-ray from 2014 indicated normal results, while a lumbar x-ray showed degenerative disc disease. [Tr. 607; Ex. 11F]. Johnson's problems persisted in 2015, and a cervical MRI performed on March 5, 2015 showed degenerative stenosis at more than one level of the cervical spine. [Tr. 616; Ex. 11F].[1]

         The Social Security Administration denied his application initially and on reconsideration, therefore Johnson requested a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ held a hearing on March 19, 2015. The ALJ denied Johnson's claim on May 13, 2015, finding that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, as amended. However, The Appeals Council remanded the case back to the ALJ for further consideration of whether Johnson was able to perform any of his past relevant work. After a second hearing, a different ALJ again denied Johnson's claim on February 14, 2017.

         In the decision, The ALJ determined that, although Johnson suffers from degenerative disc disease, he still retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work, with additional limitations [ECF #9-2, pp. 33]. The ALJ's findings were as follows:

(1) The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on March 31, 2016.
(2) The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his last alleged onset date of February 1, 2012 through his date last insured of March 31, 2016 (20 C.F.R. 404.1571 et seq.).
(3) Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairment: degenerative disc disease (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(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 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526).
(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 light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) with: occasional operation of hand controls, overhead reaching, crawling, stooping, and climbing ramps/stairs; no climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; no concentrated exposure to excessive vibration, unprotected heights, or hazards.
(6) Through the date last insured, the claimant was capable of performing past relevant work as a bearing ring assembler. This work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 C.F.R. 404.1565).
(7) The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from February 1, 2012, the alleged onset date, through March 31, 2016, the date ...

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