United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
GORDON BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
case is before the Court for a Report and Recommendation
pursuant to Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C., concerning the
disposition of Social Security cases in this District, and
Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1)(B). Plaintiff
Tracy Denise Chaney (“Plaintiff”) brought this
action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act,
as amended, (42 U.S.C. § 405(g)), to obtain judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security Administration (the “Administration”)
regarding her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act (the “Act”). For the reasons set
forth below, the undersigned recommends that this matter be
remanded for further consideration and analysis by the
FACTS AND ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS
was 47 years old on her alleged disability onset date of June
17, 2013. (R. at 28, 279; Dkt. No. 11 at 2.) Plaintiff
alleged disability due to, inter alia, panic attacks,
anxiety, and depression; arthritis in both shoulders and
hips; spasms of the esophagus and stomach; acid reflux;
gastritis; pancreatitis; L3-4 lateral recess narrowing;
compression of the exiting nerve roots bilaterally at ¶
5-S1; disc material abutting exiting nerve root on the left
at ¶ 4-5; mild facet hypertrophy at ¶ 2-3-4-5; and
mild facet disease at ¶ 5-S1. (R. at 84, 99.) Plaintiff
has past relevant work as a creeler, weaver, collection
agent, and loan clerk. (Id. at 36, 70-75.)
filed applications for DIB and SSI on October 21,
2014. (Id. at 28; Dkt. No. 11 at 2.)
Her application was denied initially on April 3, 2015, and on
reconsideration on May 28, 2015. (R. at 163, 181.) After a
hearing before the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on April 25, 2017, (id. at 46-83), the
ALJ issued a decision on June 5, 2017, in which the ALJ found
that Plaintiff was not disabled (id. at 28-38). The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, (id. at
1-5), making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's
final decision for purposes of judicial review.
making the determination that Plaintiff is not entitled to
benefits, the Commissioner has adopted the following findings
of the decision:
(1) The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through March 31, 2018.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since June 17, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 CFR
404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments: lumbar
spine disorder, bilateral hallux valgus deformity,
depression, and anxiety (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
(4) The claimant does not have an impairment or combination
of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526,
416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, I find
that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except she can never climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds; she can occasionally climb ramps or stairs; she
can frequently balance; she can occasionally crouch, kneel,
or crawl; work is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive
tasks; she can perform these tasks for two hour blocks of
time with normal rest breaks during an eight hour work day;
and she can have occasional interaction with coworkers and
the general public.
(6) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
(7) The claimant was born on June 11, 1966 and was 47 years
old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on
the alleged disability onset date. The claimant subsequently
changed age category to closely approaching advanced age (20
CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
(8) The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
(9) Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or
not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41
and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
(10) Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant No. in the national economy that
the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a),
416.969, and 416.969(a)).
(11) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from June 17, 2013, through the
date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).
(Id. at 28-38.)
provides that disability benefits shall be available to those
persons insured for benefits, who are not of retirement age,
who properly apply, and who are under a
“disability.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(a). The Act
also provides that SSI disability benefits shall be available
for aged, blind, or disabled persons who have income and
resources below a specific amount. See 42 U.S.C. § 1381
et seq. “Disability” is defined in the Act 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” twelve months. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A) (DIB context); 42 U.S.C. §
1382(a)(3)(A) (SSI context).
facilitate a uniform and efficient processing of disability
claims, the Act has by regulation reduced the statutory
definition of “disability” to a series of five
sequential questions. An examiner must consider whether the
claimant (1) is engaged in substantial gainful activity, (2)
has a severe impairment, (3) has an impairment which equals
an illness contained in the Administration's official
Listing of Impairments found at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1, (4) has an impairment which prevents past
relevant work, and (5) has an impairment which prevents her
from doing substantial gainful employment. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520 (DIB context); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 (SSI
context). If an individual is found not disabled at any step,
further inquiry is unnecessary. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4) (DIB context); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)
(SSI context); see also Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260
(4th Cir. 1981).
claimant bears the burden of proof with respect to the first
four steps of the analysis. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d
1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). Once the claimant has established
an inability to return to her past relevant work, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner to show that the
claimant-considering her age, education, work experience, and
residual functional capacity-can perform alternative jobs and
that such jobs exist in the national economy. See SSR 82-62,
1982 WL 31386, at *3; Grant v. Schweiker, 699 F.2d
189, 191 (4th Cir. 1983); see also Monroe v. Colvin,
826 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2016). The Commissioner may
satisfy this burden by obtaining testimony from a vocational
expert. See Grant, 699 F.2d at 191-92.
scope of judicial review by the federal courts in disability
cases is narrowly tailored to determine whether the findings
of the Commissioner “are supported by substantial
evidence and whether the correct law was applied.”
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
1990); see also Woods v. Berryhill, 888 F.3d 686,
691 (4th Cir. 2018); Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632,
634 (4th Cir. 2015); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 42 U.S.C.
§ 1383(c)(3). Consequently, the Act precludes a de novo
review of the evidence and requires that the court uphold the
Commissioner's decision as long as it is supported by
substantial evidence. Pyles v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 846,
848 (4th Cir. 1988) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and
Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986));
see also Mascio, 780 F.3d at 640; Bird v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec. Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012).
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla of evidence but
may be less than a preponderance.” Pearson v.
Colvin,810 F.3d 204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015) (citing
Hancock v. Astrue,667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir.
2012)). “In reviewing for substantial evidence, [the
court does] not undertake to reweigh conflicting evidence,
make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment
for that of the [ALJ].” Hancock, 667 F.3d at 472.
“Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to
differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the
responsibility for that decision falls on the [ALJ], ”
not on the reviewing court. Id. However, “[a]