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Thomas v. Saul

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

July 26, 2019

James Edward Thomas, Plaintiff,
v.
Andrew M. Saul, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          AMENDED ORDER

          TIMOTHY M. CAIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff James Edward Thomas (“Thomas”) brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (“SSA”). (ECF No. 1).[1] This matter is before the court for review of the Report and Recommendation (“Report”) of the United States Magistrate Judge, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C., concerning the disposition of social security cases in this district. (ECF No. 32).[2] In his Report, the magistrate judge recommends that the court reverse the decision of the Commissioner to deny benefits and remand this matter to the Commissioner. Id. at 12. The Commissioner filed objections. (ECF No. 34). Thomas filed a reply to those objections. (ECF No. 38). Accordingly, this matter is ripe for review. The court declines to adopt the Report and instead recommits the matter to the magistrate judge for the reasons set forth below.

         I. Background

         On June 6, 2012, Thomas filed an application for DIB, alleging that he became unable to work on July 29, 2009, due to a spinal fusion and a right arm injury from a gun shot wound years earlier. (ECF Nos. 20-2 at 40, 44; 20-3 at 2).[3] His application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (ECF No. 20-3 at 11, 23, 26). Thomas requested a review by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), (ECF No. 20-4 at 13), and a hearing was held before an ALJ on January 14, 2014 (ECF No. 20-2 at 33). On February 11, 2014, the ALJ denied Thomas benefits, finding that Thomas was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (ECF No. 20-11 at 2-11). Thomas requested a review of the ALJ's decision, which the Appeals Council denied on June 2, 2015. Id. at 17. Thomas then filed an action in this court on August 4, 2015, Thomas v. Comm'r, 4:15-cv-3061-PMD-TER (D.S.C.). The Commissioner requested remand to conduct a de novo hearing, and, pursuant to sentence four, the court remanded the action for further administrative proceedings. (ECF No. 20-11 at 23-25). Another hearing was held on May 16, 2017, at which Thomas and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. (ECF No. 20-10 at 33). On August 18, 2017, the ALJ again denied Thomas's claim, finding that Thomas was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Id. at 19-26. Thomas filed written exceptions to the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 20-12 at 59-65). On June 13, 2018, the Appeals Council determined that the exceptions had no merit and, therefore, found no reason to assume jurisdiction. (ECF No. 20-10 at 2-5). Thomas then filed this action on July 2, 2018. (ECF No. 1).

         II. Standard of Review

         The federal judiciary has a limited role in the administrative scheme established by the SSA. Section 405(g) of the Act provides, “the findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence has been defined . . . as more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964). This standard precludes a de novo review of the factual circumstances that substitutes the court's findings for those of the Commissioner. Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971). Thus, in its review, the court may not “undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] own judgment for that of the [Commissioner].” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996).

         However, “[f]rom this it does not follow . . . that the findings of the administrative agency are to be mechanically accepted. The statutorily granted right of review contemplates more than an uncritical rubber stamping of the administrative agency.” Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278, 279 (4th Cir. 1969). Rather, “the courts must not abdicate their responsibility to give careful scrutiny to the whole record to assure that there is a sound foundation for the [Commissioner's] findings, and that this conclusion is rational.” Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.

         III. Analysis

         At the hearing, the VE testified that Thomas' past relevant work (“PRW”) as a casino dealer was classified as skilled, light work with a specific vocational preparation (“SVP”) of 5. (ECF No. 20-10 at 49). The ALJ posed the following hypothetical to the VE: “Assume a hypothetical worker, the same age as Thomas, same work history and education, retaining light exertional capacity only, with no climbing, crawling, balancing, or exposure to industrial hazards.” Id. The VE testfied that such an individual could perform Thomas' PRW. Id. Thomas' attorney also questioned the VE. He proposed a hypothetical with an individual limited to less than constant reaching or unable to stand for most of the workday. Id. at 50. The VE responded that such an individual would be unable to perform the job of casino dealer. Id.

         In his decision, the ALJ determined that Thomas could preform his PRW as a casino dealer. (ECF No. 20-10 at 26). Specifically, the ALJ stated:

The vocational expert testified based on the residual functional capacity set forth above, that claimant was capable of performing his past relevant work as a casino dealer (D.O.T. # 343.464-010), which is classified as light, skilled work (SVP 5), as generally preformed.
In comparing the claimant's residual functional capacity with the physical and mental demands of this work, the undersigned finds that the claimant was able to perform it as generally performed.

(ECF No. 20-10 at 26).

         In his brief, Thomas alleges the ALJ erred in his analysis of his PRW. (ECF No. 26 at 11). Specifically, he argues that the ALJ did not comply with SSR 82-62. Id. at 13. He contends that the ALJ failed to provide specific findings or analysis regarding the physical and mental demands of Thomas' PRW work, as required by SSR 82-62, and that SSR 82-62 requires the ALJ to make ...


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