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
Lisa Stacy (“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”) under Title II 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 Commissioner.
FACTS AND ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS
was 45 years old on her alleged disability onset date of
April 18, 2014. (R. at 15, 30, 76, 89.) Plaintiff alleged
disability due to, inter alia, spinal stenosis; spinal
fusion; asthma; and arthritis. (Id. at 76, 89.)
Plaintiff has past relevant work as an administrative
assistant and mailroom supervisor. (Id. at 29-30,
65; Dkt. No. 13 at 4.)
filed an application for DIB on July 7, 2014. (R. at 15; Dkt.
No. 13 at 4.) Her application was denied initially on October
7, 2014, and on reconsideration on January 7, 2015. (R. at
15, 88, 102.) A hearing was held on January 4, 2017, before
an Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”).
(Id. at 38-73.) On April 27, 2017, the ALJ issued a
decision and found that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(Id. at 15-32.) The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on April 16, 2018, making
the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision
for purposes of judicial review. (Id. at 1-3.)
making the determination that Plaintiff is not entitled to
benefits, the Commissioner has adopted the following findings
of the ALJ's decision:
(1) The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2019.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since April 18, 2014, the alleged onset date (20 CFR
404.1571 et seq.).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, status-post
L4-S1 fusion, degenerative joint disease of the bilateral
hands, and asthma (20 CFR 404.1520(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 and 404.1526).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity, over the course of an eight-hour
workday, in two-hour increments, with normal and acceptable
work breaks, to perform work at the light exertional level as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), except standing and walking
combined can be performed for four hours out of an eight-hour
workday. Sitting can be performed for six hours out of an
eight-hour workday. The claimant can occasionally crawl and
climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She can occasionally
stoop to lift, within the exertional level, from the floor to
the waist, and can frequently stoop to lift within the
exertional level from waist height and above. The claimant
can frequently balance, kneel, crouch, and climb ramps and
stairs. Bilateral handling and fingering can be performed
frequently. The claimant can tolerate occasional exposure to
extreme cold, pulmonary irritants (such as fumes, smoke,
odors, dust, gases and poor ventilation), and work place
hazards associated with unprotected dangerous machinery or
unprotected heights. She can concentrate, persist, and
maintain pace to understand, remember and carry out simple,
routine tasks, in a low-stress environment (defined as being
free of fast-paced or team-dependent production
requirements), involving simple, work-related decisions,
occasional independent judgment skills, and occasional work
(6) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 CFR 404.1565).
(7) The claimant was born on October 12, 1968 and was 45
years old, which is defined as a younger individual age
18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR
(8) The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
(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 transferrable 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 and 404.1569(a)).
(11) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from April 18, 2014, through the
date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).
(Id. at 17-32.)
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).
“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.
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. If an individual is found not disabled at
any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4); 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
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]