United States District Court, D. South Carolina
Kaymani D. West United States Magistrate Judge.
social security matter is before the court pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local Civil Rule 83.VII.02 (D.S.C.)
for final adjudication, with the consent of the parties, of
Plaintiff's petition for judicial review. Plaintiff
brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to
obtain judicial review of a final decision the Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying his
claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
pursuant to the Social Security Act (“the Act”).
Having carefully considered the parties' submissions and
the applicable law, the court affirms the Commissioner's
decision for the reasons discussed herein.
Procedural History On January 26, 2015, 
filed an application for DIB alleging a disability onset date
of August 26, 2014. Tr. 163-66. His claim was denied
initially, Tr. 88, and upon reconsideration, Tr. 101, and
Plaintiff requested a hearing, Tr. 120. On September 29,
2017, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) and testimony was taken from Plaintiff
who was represented by counsel. Tr. 56-77. On December 27,
2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding
Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 32-49. Plaintiff requested
review of the decision from the Appeals Council, Tr. 160-61,
and the Appeals Council denied review on November 21, 2018,
making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final
decision for purposes of judicial review, Tr. 1-5. Plaintiff
brought this action seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner's decision in a Complaint filed January 18,
2019. ECF No. 1.
March 1971, Plaintiff was 43 years old on his alleged onset
date of August 26, 2014. Tr. 219. In his January 31, 2015
Disability Report-Adult Plaintiff noted that he completed the
12th grade and had not completed any type of specialized job
training or vocational school. Tr. 177. He listed his past
relevant work (“PRW”) as: tire company repairman
(1995-2007) and S.C. Department of Transportation
(“DOT”) trade specialist (5/17/2007 - 8/26/2014).
Id. Plaintiff indicated that he stopped working on
August 26, 2014, because of his medical conditions, which he
listed as: back injury, pinched nerve in back, depression,
severe anxiety, high blood pressure, allergies, leg pain, and
acid reflux. Tr. 176. Plaintiff indicated that he was
5'7” tall and weighed 210 pounds. Id.
June 19, 2015 Disability Report-Appeal, Plaintiff indicated a
change in his medical condition of pain radiating down both
legs with worse pain in his right leg. Tr. 212. In a
subsequent Disability Report-Appeal dated October 15, 2015,
Plaintiff indicated a change in his medical condition that
occurred in September 2015. Tr. 224. Plaintiff noted:
“My depression has gotten worse and I am continuing to
still be in pain. The pain radiates down both of my legs with
my right leg being the worse.” Tr. 224.
appeared with counsel for his administrative hearing on
September 29, 2017. Tr. 56. In response to questions from the
ALJ Plaintiff confirmed he was 46 years old, a high school
graduate, lived alone, was not working, and received income
and medical care through Workers' Compensation benefits.
Tr. 58-59. The ALJ confirmed Plaintiff's onset date of
August 26, 2014, and that Plaintiff has not worked since that
date. Tr. 59. Plaintiff testified that his last job was as a
trade specialist with the South Carolina DOT in Chesterfield
County. Tr. 60. Plaintiff stated that his duties were to
“[d]ock trucks, run some equipment and we used hand
tools like shovels, rakes and dug ditches and cut
trees.” Id. Plaintiff confirmed the work was
very heavy. Id. Plaintiff testified that in August
2014 he went into the cool room at work where the ice for
coolers is kept, slipped on ice on the floor, fell and hurt
his back. Id. Plaintiff stated that he has not
attempted to return to work after that injury and, other than
Workers' Compensation, did not draw any other
unemployment insurance. Id.
response to questions from his attorney Plaintiff testified
that he drew out his sick leave and vacation pay in 2015 but
did not work in 2015. Tr. 61. Plaintiff testified that he
still drives a car, but he cannot drive long distances and is
unable to twist and turn because his back hurts too much.
Id. Plaintiff stated that he has two herniated discs
in his mid-back, and he has a pinched nerve in his lower back
that causes pain that runs down his leg. Id.
Plaintiff stated that it took one hour and 20 minutes to
drive to the hearing from where he lived, but someone else
drove him and he was able to ride without stopping. Tr.
testified that before working for the DOT he worked for 15
years for Gerard Tire until the company closed in 2007. Tr.
62. Plaintiff stated that he was a repair specialist at
Gerard Tire and “handled big tires a lot and lifted
rubber and recapped tires.” Id. Plaintiff
testified that after his injury at the DOT he spoke with his
family doctor, Dr. Novinger, about going back to work and the
doctor “didn't see that [he] could.” Tr.
62-63. Plaintiff confirmed that he had a spinal cord
stimulator implanted in January 2017 that helped his lower
back pain, but it did not get rid of the pain completely. Tr.
63. Plaintiff testified that he still has pain in his mid and
lower back that hurts every day. Id. Plaintiff
testified that his shoulders and knees also hurt, and his
“right leg gives more trouble than the other” and
his “left shoulder hurts more than the right one, but
they all hurt.” Id. Plaintiff described the
pain in his back as a constant “aggravating pain”
and at times he has a sharp pain in his right leg. Tr. 63-64.
Plaintiff stated the pain in his shoulders and knees was
related to his arthritis and was a “grinding”
pain. Tr. 64. Plaintiff testified that the pain in his right
leg was because he fell in March 2017 while walking and his
leg collapsed. Plaintiff stated that he broke his leg and had
to have a titanium rod put in his leg. Id. Plaintiff
testified that he still limps, has trouble going up and down
steps and “just walking, ” and still has pain in
the area of the actual break. Tr. 65. Plaintiff stated that
the pain in his back and knees is worse if he sits or stands
too long, or with colder or rainy weather. Id.
Plaintiff testified that he “can walk some, but it
hurts [his] lower back a lot.” Id. Plaintiff
testified that he could walk for 15 minutes but after 15
minutes he would have to sit down. Id. Plaintiff
stated he could probably stand in one place for 30 minutes.
Id. Plaintiff testified that he could sit in a
straight chair for 30 minutes and noted that in the ride to
the hearing he had to recline his seat. Tr. 66. Plaintiff
testified that he did his own grocery shopping and carried
the groceries in the house “a bag at a time.”
Id. Plaintiff indicated he was able to carry a
gallon of milk. Id.
confirmed that he was still taking hydrocodone every six
hours, taking gabapentin three times a day for nerve pain,
and taking tizanidine three times a day for muscle spasms.
Tr. 66-67. Plaintiff testified that the medication causes
drowsiness and sometimes he will “actually take a nap
from it.” Tr. 67. Plaintiff stated that two or three
days a week he will take a nap that lasts a couple of hours.
Id. Plaintiff testified that he had tried using ice
and heat, but it did not help with his pain. Id.
Plaintiff testified that he had been able to use the spinal
cord stimulator again only recently after his broken leg
because he thought “it did something to the nerves in
[his] leg” that would cause it to hurt more than it
normally did. Tr. 67-68. Plaintiff confirmed that he was
taking Xanax and that he was still having problems with
anxiety. Tr. 68. Plaintiff also confirmed that he was taking
buspirone and duloxetine for depression. Id.
Plaintiff testified that he sometimes still had problems with
depression despite taking the medication. Tr. 68-69.
Plaintiff stated that he still had anxiety issues and would
sometimes get nervous, have trouble sleeping, or would have
panic attacks that affected his breathing. Tr. 69. Plaintiff
testified that he has panic attacks “a few times a
week.” Id. Plaintiff testified that with his
anxiety attacks he gets “short winded” and it
feels as if he has a weight on his chest. Plaintiff noted
that in the previous year he had a heart attack, but he has
“had anxiety attacks that actually hurt worse than the
heart attack did.” Id. Plaintiff stated that
he uses breathing techniques to help with the panic attacks.
Tr. 70. He stated that if he does his deep breathing
exercises it takes “roughly about 30 minutes” for
the panic attack to pass. Id. Plaintiff testified
that when he is depressed he does not want to be around other
people and socialize. He also stated that he sleeps a lot
when he is depressed. Id. Plaintiff testified that
his doctor told him to visit with friends or watch TV to
alleviate his feelings of isolation. Id. Plaintiff
stated that he visits his friends three or four times a week.
Tr. 71. He testified that he watches TV shows that last 30-60
minutes but is unable to concentrate long enough to watch
movies. Id. Plaintiff testified that he likes to
hunt and fish but has not hunted in the past year because he
cannot sit in a deer stand for a long period of time.
Id. Plaintiff's counsel noted that Plaintiff
stood during the hearing and Plaintiff confirmed that he has
to change positions frequently. Tr. 71-72. Plaintiff
testified that he does his own housework but he does tasks in
spurts of 25-30 minutes at a time followed by 25-30-minute
breaks. Tr. 72. Plaintiff testified that he cooks small meals
such as sandwiches or frozen meals. Id. Plaintiff
stated that his blood pressure is “all right” but
he has a lot of dizzy spells when standing-on average once or
twice a day. Tr. 73. Plaintiff confirmed that he takes
metformin twice a day for diabetes, and he was recently given
a prescription for diabetic shoes after undergoing a nerve
conduction study. Id. Plaintiff also noted that he
takes medication for reflux. Tr. 74.
response to follow-up questions from the ALJ Plaintiff
testified that, other than the stimulator, he has had shots
in his back that did not help, and he has pain medication.
Tr. 74. Plaintiff confirmed that the stimulator was
disconnected for a short period of time after he broke his
leg, but he recently started using it again. Tr. 74-75.
Plaintiff testified that he had physical therapy, but it did
not help. Tr. 75. Plaintiff stated that he was discharged
from physical therapy because the pain would cause his blood
pressure to rise. Id. Plaintiff stated that one
doctor discussed back surgery with him but the doctor
“said he did not want to risk doing the surgery because
it could cause too many other problems.” Id.
Plaintiff testified that he did not know of any end date for
his Workers' Compensation benefits. Id.
Plaintiff stated that he is 5'7” tall and weighs
approximately 210 pounds. Id. Plaintiff stated that
he gained a lot of weight-up to 240 pounds-when he was taking
Lyrica for fibromyalgia for his leg. Tr. 76. Plaintiff noted
that once he was taken off the medication his “weight
went back down.” Id.
December 27, 2017 decision, the ALJ made the following
findings of fact and conclusions of law:
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 August 26, 2014, the alleged onset date (20
CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
obesity; coronary artery disease; and lumbar radiculopathy
(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, I find
that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to
perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on March 23, 1971 and was 43 years
old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on
the alleged disability onset date. The claimant subsequently
changed age category to a younger individual age 45-49 (20
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 applying the
Medical-Vocational Rules directly supports a finding of
“not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has
transferable 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 numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569 and
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from August 26, 2014, through the
date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).
Tr. 37, 39, 48-49.