Binnarr v. Colvin, Civil Action No. 6:14-4425-RMG-KFM

Decision Date10 December 2015
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 6:14-4425-RMG-KFM
CourtU.S. District Court — District of South Carolina
PartiesMarion P. Binnarr, Jr. , Plaintiff, v. Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT OF 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).

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 his 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 August 29, 2011, alleging that he became unable to work on January 1, 2008. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration by the Social Security Administration. On July 16, 2012, the plaintiff requested a hearing. At the hearing, the plaintiff, through his attorney, amended his alleged onset date of disability to April 6, 2010. The administrative law judge ("ALJ"), before whom the plaintiff and J. Adger Brown, Jr., an impartial vocational expert, appeared on June 20, 2013, considered the case de novo and, on July 18, 2013, found that the plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, as amended. 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 September 18, 2014. 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 last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on March 31, 2012.
(2) The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his amended onset date of April 6, 2010, through his date last insured of March 31, 2012 (20 C.F.R §§ 404.1571 et seq).
(3) Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, history of cardiac bypass surgery, anxiety, and depression (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)).
(4) Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled 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, and 404.1526).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except that he cannot crawl or kneel; can occasionally crouch; can have no exposure to temperature extremes, high humidity, vibration, or work hazards; is limited to simple, repetitive tasks not requiring ongoing interaction with the public; and cannot work in an environment requiring fast-paced production.
(6) Through the date last insured, the claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § 404.1565).
(7) The claimant was born on January 3, 1962, and was 50 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date last insured. The claimant subsequently changed age category to closely approaching advanced age (20 C.F.R. § 404.1563).
(8) The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. § 404.1564).
(9) Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled," whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
(10) Through the date last insured, 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 could have performed (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
(11) The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from April 6, 2010, the amended onset date, through March 31, 2012, the date last insured (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

The Social Security Act provides that disability benefits shall be available to those persons insured for benefits, who are not of retirement age, who properly apply, and who are under a "disability." 42 U.S.C. § 423(a). "Disability" is defined in 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) as:

the inability to engage in 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 at least 12 consecutive months.

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 equals an illness contained in the Social Security Administration's Official Listings ofImpairments found at 20 C.F.R. Part 4, Subpart P, App. 1, (4) has an impairment that prevents past relevant work, and (5) has an impairment that prevents him from doing substantial gainful employment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. If an individual is found not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4).

A plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act if he can return to past relevant work as it is customarily performed in the economy or as the claimant actually performed the work. SSR 82-62, 1982 WL 31386, at *3. The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing his inability to work within the meaning of the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5). He must make a prima facie showing of disability by showing he is unable to return to his past relevant work. Grant v. Schweiker, 699 F.2d 189, 191 (4th Cir. 1983).

Once an individual has established an inability to return to his past relevant work, the burden is on the Commissioner to come forward with evidence that the plaintiff can perform alternative work and that such work exists in the regional economy. The Commissioner may carry the burden of demonstrating the existence of jobs available in the national economy that the plaintiff can perform despite the existence of impairments that prevent the return to past relevant work by obtaining testimony from a vocational expert. Id.

The scope of judicial review by the federal courts in disability cases is narrowly tailored to determine whether the findings of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Consequently, the Act precludes a de novo review of the evidence and requires the court to uphold the Commissioner's decision as long as it is supported by substantial evidence. See Pyles v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 846, 848 (4th Cir. 1988) (citing Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986)). The phrase "supported by substantial evidence" is defined as :

evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than apreponderance. If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is "substantial evidence."

Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966) (citation omitted).

Thus, it is the duty of this court to give careful scrutiny to the whole record to assure that there is a sound foundation for the Commissioner's findings and that the conclusion is rational. Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir. 1964). If there is substantial evidence to support the decision of the Commissioner, that decision must be affirmed. Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972).

EVIDENCE PRESENTED

The plaintiff was 48 years-old on his amended alleged disability onset date and was 50 years old on his date last insured (Tr. 167). He has a tenth grade education and was previously employed as a truck driver, brake mechanic, and worked in construction as a siding applicator (Tr. 42, 59, 220).

In September 2011, the plaintiff completed a function report in connection with his DIB application (Tr. 228-36). In the report, the plaintiff stated that he prepared his own meals, drove a car, went shopping independently, and noted that he left his house frequently (four to five times a week) (Tr. 229-31). In a subsequent report submitted in May 2012, the plaintiff noted that he had no difficulty tending to his personal care needs (dressing, bathing, shaving, feeding, etc.), he prepared meals independently, and he handled his finances without assistance (Tr. 251-53). The plaintiff also indicated that he primarily spent his time watching television and interacting with others, noting that he got along "great" with authority figures (Tr. 254-56).

Medical records from mid-2008 indicate that the plaintiff experienced coronary artery disease, which was successfully treated prior to the relevant period (Tr. 281, 287, 304-05). Specifically, on August 7, 2008, the plaintiff underwent left heart catheterizationat Trident Medical Center (Tr. 281). The plaintiff was discharged in stable condition and was directed to...

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