United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
Timothy M. Cain United States District Judge.
plaintiff, Thomas Lee Goodwin (“Goodwin”),
brought this action pursuant to the Social Security Act
(“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”), denying his claim for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). (ECF No.
1). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local
Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C., this matter was referred
to a magistrate judge for pretrial handling. Before this
court is the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation
(“Report”), recommending that the court reverse
the decision of the Commissioner and remand the case for
further review. (ECF No. 15). In the Report, the magistrate
judge sets forth the relevant facts and legal standards,
which are incorporated herein by reference. The Commissioner
filed objections to the Report. (ECF No. 17). Plaintiff
replied to those objections. (ECF No. 20). The matter is now
ripe for review.
applied for DIB on July 25, 2013, alleging a disability onset
date of May 13, 2007. (ECF No. 6-2 at 13). His claim was denied
both initially and on reconsideration by the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”). Id. Goodwin then
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), and on July 7, 2014, the ALJ conducted a
hearing on Goodwin's claim for DIB. Id. at
33-67. Goodwin was represented by a non-attorney
representative at the hearing. Id. at 33. On July
30, 2014, the ALJ issued his decision finding that Goodwin
was not disabled. Id. at 13 - 32. The Appeals
Council denied Goodwin's request for review on November
3, 2014. Id. at 6-8.
March 26, 2015,  Plaintiff filed a complaint in this court,
seeking review of the ALJ's decision. Goodwin v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., No.
2:15-cv-01386-RBH-MGB, docket entry 1 (D.S.C. Mar. 26, 2015).
On December 8, 2015, this court remanded Goodwin's case
to the Appeals Council for further review. Id. at
docket entry 15; (ECF No. 7-4 at 35-36). The Appeals Council
vacated the final decision of the Commissioner and remanded
the case to the ALJ for further proceedings. Id. at
5-6. The ALJ held additional hearings on July 12, 2016, and
January 9, 2017, where Goodwin was represented by a
non-attorney representative. (ECF No. 7-3 at 10). At the
January 9th hearing, Goodwin amended his alleged onset date
to September 28, 2008. Id. at 11, 54. Following the
hearing, he amended his alleged onset date to November 5,
2010. Id.; (ECF No. 7-6 at 46). On April 4, 2017,
the ALJ issued a second decision and again found that Goodwin
was not disabled. (ECF No. 7-3 at 7-35).
decision, the ALJ found Goodwin met the insured status
requirements under the Act through December 31, 2013, and
that Goodwin had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since November 5, 2010, the alleged onset date of disability.
Id. at 13. The ALJ further determined that Goodwin
suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative
disc disease, depressive disorder, plantar fasciitis, and
migraine headaches. Id. In reviewing all of
Goodwin's impairments, the ALJ concluded that he did
“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.” Id. at 14. Additionally, the ALJ
calculated Goodwin's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and determined that he could perform
simple, routine tasks at the light exertional level as
defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with various
limitations. Id. at 14-15. Because of these
limitations, the ALJ determined that Goodwin is unable to
perform his past relevant work as a maintenance repairer,
building (medium, skilled), and fire control equipment
repairer mechanic (medium, skilled). Id. at 28.
However, the ALJ determined that based on Goodwin's age,
education, work experience, and RFC calculation, there were
“jobs that existed in significant numbers in the
national economy that [he] could have performed.”
Id. at 29. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that
Coleman was not disabled as defined in the Act. Id.
subsequently appealed to the Appeals Council, and the Appeals
Council denied Goodwin's request for review, making the
ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision for
judicial review purposes. (ECF No. 7-3 at 2-5). This action
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).
“[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.
Report, the magistrate judge recommends that the decision of
the Commissioner be reversed and remanded for further
consideration. (ECF No. 15). The Commissioner objects to the
magistrate judge's determination that there was an
apparent conflict between “simple, routine tasks”
and a General Educational Development (“GED”)
reasoning level of 2. (ECF No. 17). Specifically, the
Commissioner asserts that the magistrate judge erred in
relying on Henderson v. Colvin, 643 Fed. App'x
273 (4th Cir. 2015), and that decisions from outside of this
district have found there to be no such apparent conflict.
considering an application for disability benefits, an ALJ
uses a five-step process to evaluate the disability claim. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4). At Step Five of this
sequential process, the ALJ “considers the
claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual
functional capacity to decide whether he can perform
alternative work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy.” Pearson v. Colvin, 810 F.3d
204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). While the
claimant bears the burden of proof as to the first four steps
in the process, at this fifth and final step, the burden is
on the Commissioner to prove that the claimant can perform
alternate work. Id. At this step in the process, the
ALJ relies primarily on the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”), though the ALJ may also rely on a
vocational expert (“VE”) “to address
complex aspects of the employment determination, including
the [VE]'s observations of what a particular job
requires.” Id. However, the ALJ must
“inquire, on the record” whether the VE testimony
conflicts with the DOT. Id. (citations omitted). The
ALJ must then “elicit a reasonable explanation for the
conflict before relying on the VE  evidence to support a
determination or decision about whether the claimant is
disabled.” SSR 00-4p, at *2.
an ALJ has not fulfilled his affirmative duty “merely
because the VE responds ‘yes' when asked if [his]
testimony is consistent with the [DOT].”
Pearson, 810 F.3d at 208. Instead, the ALJ must
independently identify any apparent conflicts between the VE
testimony and the DOT. Id. at 209. This apparent
conflict standard “embraces the reality that, in many
case, testimony may only appear to conflict with the [DOT],
and the [VE] may be able to explain that, in fact, no
conflict exists.” Id. However, if the ALJ does
not illicit an ...