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Wykel v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

September 13, 2019

Darrell Wykel, Plaintiff,
Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.



         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, Darrell Wykel, 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 his 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.


         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 his past relevant work; and
(5) whether the claimant's impairments prevent him 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 he is unable to return to his past relevant work because of his 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).


         In August 2014, Wykel applied for DIB, alleging disability beginning April 25, 2014. Wykel's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and he requested a hearing before an ALJ. A hearing was held on May 16, 2017, at which Wykel appeared and testified and was represented by Paul T. McChesney, Esquire, and Mark Dunning, Esquire. After hearing testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ issued a decision on October 23, 2017 finding that Wykel was not disabled from April 25, 2014 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 21-37.)

         Wykel was born in 1965 and was forty-nine years old on his alleged disability onset date. He has a high school education and past relevant work experience as a warehouse worker. (Tr. 200.) Wykel alleged disability due to degenerative disc of the lumbar spine, inflammatory arthritis, depression, and bronchitis. (Tr. 198.)

         In applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found that Wykel had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of April 25, 2014. The ALJ also determined that Wykel's degenerative disc disease; right knee internal derangement with tear and chondromalacia, status post-surgical repair; history of left shoulder surgery around 1998; asthma; major depressive disorder; intermittent explosive disorder; and borderline personality disorder were severe impairments. However, the ALJ found that Wykel did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of ...

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