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Clinkscales v. Saul

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

November 8, 2019

Adriane Deshaun Clinkscales, Plaintiff,
v.
Andrew M. Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          KEVIN F. MCDONALD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This case is before the court for a report and recommendation pursuant to Local Civil 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).[1]

         The 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 denying her claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.

         ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         The plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) on December 11, 2014, alleging that she became unable to work on May 9, 2014. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. On October 23, 2015, the plaintiff requested a hearing. On October 18, 2017, an administrative hearing was held at which the plaintiff and Benson Hecker, an impartial vocational expert, appeared and testified in Greenville, South Carolina. On December 20, 2017, the ALJ considered the case de novo and found that the plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, as amended (Tr. 17-25). The ALJ's finding became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security when the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review on December 19, 2018 (Tr. 1-6). The plaintiff then filed this action for judicial review.

         In making the determination that the plaintiff is not entitled to benefits, the Commissioner has adopted the following findings of the ALJ:

(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 May 9, 2014, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. § 404.1571 et seq).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairment: spine disorders (20 C.F.R. § 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 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except she may need to change position up to once an hour without leaving the workstation. She can occasionally climb ladders, stoop, and crawl, frequently push and/or pull with the right lower extremity, climb steps, balance, crouch, and kneel. She should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards.
(6) The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a cashier. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 C.F.R. § 404.1565).
(7) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from May 9, 2014, through the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f)).

         The only issues before the court are whether proper legal standards were applied and whether the final decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence.

         APPLICABLE LAW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), (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).

         To facilitate a uniform and efficient processing of disability claims, the Social Security 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 that meets or medically equals an impairment contained in the Listing of Impairments found at 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, (4) can perform his past relevant work, and (5) can perform other work. Id. § 404.1520. If an individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4).

         A claimant must make a prima facie case of disability by showing he is unable to return to his past relevant work because of his impairments. Grant v. Schweiker, 699 F.2d 189, 191 (4th Cir. 1983). Once an individual has established a prima facie case of disability, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that the plaintiff can perform alternative work and that such work exists in the national economy. Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)). The Commissioner may carry this burden by obtaining testimony from a vocational expert. Id. at 192.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the court may review the Commissioner's denial of benefits. However, this review is limited to considering whether the Commissioner's findings “are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standard.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). “Substantial evidence” means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Id. In reviewing the evidence, the court may not “undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the ...


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