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Ghidella v. Saul

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

July 30, 2019

Catherine Ghidella, Plaintiff,
v.
Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security,[1] Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PAIGE J. GOSSETT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This 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, Catherine Ghidella, 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 her 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 reversed and remanded.

         SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY GENERALLY

         Under 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 activity;
(2) whether the claimant has a “severe” impairment;
(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 her past relevant work; and
(5) whether the claimant's impairments prevent her from doing any other kind of work.

20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).[2] 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 step. Id.

         Under this analysis, a claimant has the initial burden of showing that she is unable to return to her past relevant work because of her 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. 1983).

         ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         In June 2014, Ghidella applied for DIB, alleging disability beginning June 1, 2011. Ghidella's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an ALJ. A video hearing was held on January 4, 2017, at which Ghidella appeared and testified and was represented by Natasha Hanna, Esquire. After hearing testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ issued a decision on May 23, 2017 finding that Ghidella was not disabled from June 1, 2011 through the date last insured of September 30, 2016. (Tr. 16-25.)

         Ghidella was born in 1960 and was fifty-five years old on her date last insured. She has a high school education and past relevant work experience as an office manager. (Tr. 239.) Ghidella alleged disability due to degenerative disc disease, sciatica, spinal stenosis, and arthritis. (Tr. 238.)

         In applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found that Ghidella had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of June 1, 2011 through her date last insured of September 30, 2016. The ALJ also determined that, through the date last insured, Ghidella's cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease and fibromyalgia syndrome was a severe combination of impairments. However, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Ghidella did not have 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 further found that, through the date last insured, Ghidella retained the residual functional capacity to

perform sedentary[] work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except that she can frequently push/pull with her bilateral upper extremities within the weight restrictions of sedentary work. She cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant can perform other postural activities occasionally. She can have no direct exposure to vibrations. The claimant can occasionally reach overhead bilaterally and frequently reach in all other directions bilaterally.

(Tr. 21.) The ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Ghidella was capable of performing past relevant work as an office manager, and that this work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Ghidella's residual functional capacity. Accordingly, the ALJ found that Ghidella was not disabled from June 1, 2011 through the date last insured of September 30, 2016.

         The Appeals Council denied Ghidella's request for review on May 16, 2018, thereby making the decision of the ALJ the final action of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-5.) This action followed.

         STANDARD ...


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