United States District Court, D. South Carolina
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
J. Gossett United States Magistrate Judge.
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, Vernon Stewart, 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,
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”),
denying his claims for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). Having carefully considered the
parties' submissions and the applicable law, the court
concludes that the Commissioner's decision should be
SECURITY DISABILITY GENERALLY
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) and (d)(5), 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); 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
(2) whether the claimant has a “severe”
(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 his past relevant work;
(5) whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from
doing any other kind of work.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). 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
this analysis, a claimant has the initial burden of showing
that he is unable to return to his past relevant work because
of his 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);
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.
January 2017, Stewart applied for DIB, alleging disability
beginning August 15, 2014. Stewart's application was
denied initially and upon reconsideration, and he requested a
hearing before an ALJ. A hearing was held on January 9, 2018,
at which Stewart, who was represented by J. Leeds Barroll,
IV, Esquire, appeared and testified. After hearing testimony
from a vocational expert, the ALJ issued a decision on April
3, 2018 finding that Stewart was not disabled from August 15,
2014 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 13-27.)
was born in 1964 and was fifty years old on his alleged
disability onset date. He has a college education and has
past relevant work experience as a training coordinator and
as a human resource worker with the United States Army. (Tr.
219.) Stewart alleged disability due to back issues, neck
stenosis, and left leg radiculopathy. (Tr. 218.)
applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found that
Stewart had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
his alleged onset date of August 15, 2014. The ALJ determined
that Stewart's degenerative disc disease of the lumbar
and cervical spines, bilateral pes planus, gout,
post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, generalized
anxiety disorder, and intermittent explosive disorder were
severe impairments. However, the ALJ found that Stewart had
not had 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 Stewart retained the
capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b) with additional restrictions of lifting,
carrying, pushing, and pulling 20 pounds occasionally and
less than 10 pounds frequently; standing and/or walking for
six hours in an eight-hour work day, and, sitting for six
hours in an eight-hour work day; no climbing of ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds; occasional operation of foot controls,
bilaterally, overhead reaching with the left upper extremity,
stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, balancing, climbing
of stairs and ramps, and exposure to hazards. The claimant is
limited to simple, routine tasks and simple work-related
decisions but is able to maintain concentration, persistence,
and pace for periods of two hou[rs], perform activities
within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and complete
a normal workday and workweek. The claimant can have
occasional interaction with the general public, occasional
close, “team-type” interactions with coworkers,
and tolerate occasional changes in routine work setting.
(Tr. 17.) The ALJ found that Stewart was unable to perform
any past relevant work, but that considering Stewart's
age, education, work experience, and residual functional
capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers
in the national economy that Stewart could perform.
Therefore, the ALJ found that Stewart had not been disabled
from the alleged onset date of August 15, 2014 through the
date of the decision.
Appeals Council denied Stewart's request for review on
May 16, 2018, making the decision of the ALJ the final action
of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-5.) This action followed.
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the court may review the
Commissioner's denial of benefits. However, this review
is limited to considering whether the Commissioner's
findings “are supported by substantial evidence and
were reached through application of the correct legal
standard.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589
(4th Cir. 1996); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987).
Thus, the court may review only whether the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence and whether the correct law was applied. See
Brown v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 873 F.3d 251, 267
(4th Cir. 2017); Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980,
982 (4th Cir. 1980). “Substantial evidence” means
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it consists of
more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat
less than a preponderance.” Craig, 76 F.3d at
589; see also Pearson v. Colvin, 810 F.3d 204, 207
(4th Cir. 2015). In reviewing the evidence, the court may not
“undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make
credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for
that of the [Commissioner].” Craig, 76 F.3d at
589; see also Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470, 472
(4th Cir. 2012). Accordingly, even if the court disagrees
with the Commissioner's decision, the court must uphold
it if it is supported by substantial evidence.
Blalock, 483 F.2d at 775.
raises the following issues for this judicial review:
A. The ALJ's decision discrediting multiple treating
medical sources was deficient in its discussion of the
regulatory five-factor scheme required to deprive numerous
treating medical sources of controlling weight.
B. The ALJ misapplied SSR 16-3p in his discredit
of the claimant's symptoms.
C. The ALJ failed to discuss the medically determinable
impairment of prostatitis.
(Pl.'s Br., ECF No. 7.)
first argues that the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinion
evidence from Larry Dillard, a physician assistant, and Dr.
Phillip J. Michels, a psychologist. Stewart also argues that
the ALJ erred in evaluating the disability rating of the
Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”).