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Merriweather v. Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

July 22, 2019

Gregory T. Merriweather, Plaintiff,
v.
Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          R. BRYAN HARWELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Gregory T. Merriweather (“Merriweather”) 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 supplement security income (“SSI”) pursuant to the Social Security Act (the “Act”). The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West, 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 No. 25].

         Factual Findings and Procedural History

          On April 7, 2014 Merriweather filed an application for SSI benefits, alleging disability beginning on December 31, 2010; however, at his hearing, he amended his alleged onset date to April 7, 2014. The Social Security Administration denied his application initially and on reconsideration, therefore Merriweather requested a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ held a hearing on February 21, 2017. The ALJ denied his claim on April 10, 2017, finding that he was not under a disability as defined by the Social Security Act, as amended.

         Merriweather alleges he has medical impairments with respect to his left shoulder and left arm which resulted in the need for a left superior labral tear from anterior to posterior (“SLAP”) repair. He has also undergone a shoulder surgery to repair his rotator cuff [Tr. 483; 619]. On December 13, 2014, an MRI of his left shoulder revealed a full thickness re-tear of the tendon. [Tr. 782]. He underwent a third surgery to repair his rotator cuff on September 14, 2015. [Tr. 1057]. He received further treatment due to degenerative disc disease and associated neck pain. An MRI on March 28, 2016 showed moderate neural foraminal stenosis at the C4-C5 level, as well as degenerative disc disease at the C5-C6 level with disc osteophyte complex, and moderate left neural foraminal stenosis at the C5-C6 level. [Tr. 1129-1130]. Plaintiff also states he has bilateral knee pain for which he has undergone physical therapy and has required the use a cane. [Tr. 57-58]. Plaintiff's medical history also includes the fact that he has suffered several strokes and experienced heart problems, such as an irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure. [Tr. 61]. Medical records from the Veterans Administration Medical Center indicate he has had strokes in more than one location of the brain, as well as some atrophy of the brain. [Tr. 353, 687]. He wore a “stress sleeve” for a period of time for issues related to elbow pain. Finally, he has been diagnosed and treated for mental health conditions, including depression. When he was evaluated on April 3, 2014, his GAF score was 50. [Tr. 383]. In 2016, Merriweather had a GAF score of 52, and in October of 2016, he reported worsening depression with frequent suicidal ideation. [Tr. 1215]. Plaintiff previously worked as a landscaper. He also worked for a short period of time at Walmart and the Salvation Army. [Tr. 53].

         At the hearing, Merriweather's counsel requested that the ALJ hold open the record for fourteen days for the submission of additional medical evidence. However, Merriweather did not provide any additional medical evidence nor did he request any further extension of time. In the decision denying benefits, The ALJ determined that, although Merriweather suffers from degenerative disc disease, he still retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work, with additional limitations [ECF No. 9-2, p. 33]. The ALJ's findings were as follows:

(1) Claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 7, 2014, the amended alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. 416.971 et seq.).
(2) Claimant has the following severe impairments: left shoulder disorders, bilateral knee degenerative joint disease, cervical spine degenerative disc disease, status post strokes, and depression (20 C.F.R. 416.920(c)).
(3) 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 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926).
(4) After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 416.967(b). Claimant can lift, carry, push, and pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand or walk 6 hours in an 8 hour workday, and sit 6 hours in an 8 hour workday. Claimant can occasionally reach with the left upper extremity, and frequently handle and finger with the left upper extremity. Claimant can occasionally reach with the left upper extremity, and frequently handle and finger with the left upper extremity. Claimant can occasionally crawl and climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, and frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, balance, climb ramps, and climb stairs. Claimant can tolerate occasional exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts. Claimant is limited to simple, routine tasks and simple work-related decisions, but is able to maintain concentration, persistence, and pace for 2 hour periods, perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and complete a normal workday and workweek. Claimant can occasionally interact with the general public and can tolerate frequent changes in a routine work setting.
(5) Claimant has no past relevant work (20 C.F.R. 416.925).
(6) Claimant was born on April 1, 1963 and was 51 years old, which is defined as an individual closing approaching advanced age, on the date the application was filed (20 C.F.R. 416.963).
(7) Claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. 416.964).
(8) Transferability of job skills is not an issue because claimant does not have past relevant work (20 C.F.R. 416.968).
(9) Considering claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
(7) Claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since April 7, 2014, the ...

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