Slaughter v. Colvin, Civil Action No. 8:14-cv-04760-BHH-JDA

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
PartiesJeremy Slaughter, Plaintiff, v. Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 8:14-cv-04760-BHH-JDA
Decision Date23 May 2016

Jeremy Slaughter, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 8:14-cv-04760-BHH-JDA


May 23, 2016


This matter is before the Court for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C., and Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Plaintiff 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 Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"), denying Plaintiff's claims for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed.


On January 13, 2011, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI alleging an onset of disability date of November 26, 2009. [R. 142-49, 132-41.] These claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration by the Social Security Administration ("the Administration"). [R. 65-72, 76-79.] Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and on April 1, 2013, ALJ Wendell M. Sims conducted a de novo hearing on Plaintiff's claims. [R. 26-56.]

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The ALJ issued a decision on April 18, 2013, finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act ("the Act") and not eligible for SSI benefits. [R. 12-21.] At Step 1,1 the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act on November 26, 2009, the alleged date of disability onset, and continued to meet them through the date of the decision. [R. 20, Finding 1.] The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. [R. 20, Finding 2.] At Step 2, the ALJ found that the medical evidence established that Plaintiff had "severe" impairments of degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis of his knees, major depression, and general anxiety. [R. 20, Finding 3.] The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff had non-severe impairments of discrete schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, residuals of a right foot injury, poor hearing in one ear, and poor vision in his right eye. [R. 15.] At Step 3, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the criteria of one of the impairments listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4. [R. 14; R. 20, Finding 5.]

Before addressing Step 4, Plaintiff's ability to perform his past relevant work, the ALJ found Plaintiff retained the following residual functional capacity ("RFC"):

Having carefully reviewed all of the evidence in this case, I find that the claimant retains the residual functional capacity to perform "light" work requiring completion of only simple, routine, repetitive tasks with only occasional public contact, as well as only occasional stooping, kneeling, and climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds. I find that the claimant has not met his burden of establishing that he is unable to perform other work functions, including standing, sitting, or walking for 6 to 8 hours in a work day, frequently lifting and carrying as much as

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10 pounds, occasionally lifting and carrying as much as 20 pounds, pushing, pulling, meeting the other physical non-exertional demands of work, and meeting the mental demands of unskilled work, including performing the simple, routine, repetitive tasks associated with such work.
R. 18; R. 20 Finding 7.] Based on this RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work. [R. 21, Finding 8.] Taking into consideration Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience, the ALJ determined that, although the claimant is unable to perform the full range of "light" work, he is capable of making the adjustment to work which exists in significant numbers in the national economy including employment as a small parts assembler, bench assembly, an assembler machine tender, and a night business cleaner. [R. 21, Finding 11.] The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability within the meaning of the Act at any time through the date of the decision. [R. 21, Finding 12.

Plaintiff requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision, and on September 8, 2014, the Council declined review.2 [R. 1-8.] Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review on November 20, 2014. [Doc. 1.]


Plaintiff does not allege any specific error in the ALJ's analysis but argues that his claim should have been granted at the initial level based on the "overwhelming evidence of physical and mental disability as seen in the medical records provided." [Doc. 20.] Plaintiff contends that he "has suffered several years of back and joint pain, along with psychiatric impairments that are not expected to improve to a point of allowing" him to

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become employable. [Id. at 2.] Plaintiff argues the medical evidence of record supports a finding that Listings 1.02, 1.04,12.04, and 12.06 are met because the evidence showed joint space narrowing in the knees and lumbar spinal stenosis and nerve root canal compression; Plaintiff also argues that Plaintiff's mental impairments satisfy "the grid for mood disorders and anxiety disorders." [Id. at 3.] Plaintiff contends that several physicians and psychiatric physicians have stated that Plaintiff is disabled and cannot work. [Id.] Plaintiff also points out that his VA disability rating has been changed from 50% to 80% during the course of this disability claim due to his deteriorating knees and back; and, during the week of August 17, 2015, Plaintiff had surgery to correct his pinched spinal nerves. [Id. at 1.]

The Commissioner contends that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff is not entitled to benefits and the decision should be affirmed. [Doc. 21.] The Commissioner explains that Plaintiff's primary arguments reference certain evidence that was not presented to the ALJ and is not before this Court or made part of the record. [Id. at 1, 11.]


The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla—i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a fact and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support the conclusion. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Laws v. Celebrezze, 368

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F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966) (citing Woolridge v. Celebrezze, 214 F. Supp. 686, 687 (S.D.W. Va. 1963)) ("Substantial evidence, it has been held, is 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 a preponderance. If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is 'substantial evidence.'").

Where conflicting evidence "allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the [Commissioner] (or the [Commissioner's] designate, the ALJ)," not on the reviewing court. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996); see also Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991) (stating that where the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the court will affirm, even if the reviewer would have reached a contrary result as finder of fact and even if the reviewer finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision). Thus, it is not within the province of a reviewing court to determine the weight of the evidence, nor is it the court's function to substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner so long as the decision is supported by substantial evidence. See Bird v. Comm'r, 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012); Laws, 368 F.2d at 642; Snyder v. Ribicoff, 307 F.2d 518, 520 (4th Cir. 1962).

The reviewing court will reverse the Commissioner's decision on plenary review, however, if the decision applies incorrect law or fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning to determine that the Commissioner properly applied the law. Myers v. Califano, 611 F.2d 980, 982 (4th Cir. 1980); see also Keeton v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 21

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F.3d 1064, 1066 (11th Cir. 1994). Where the Commissioner's decision "is in clear disregard of the overwhelming weight of the evidence, Congress has empowered the courts to modify or reverse the [Commissioner's] decision 'with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.'" Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157, 1158 (4th Cir. 1971) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Remand is unnecessary where "the record does not contain substantial evidence to support a decision denying coverage under the correct legal standard and when reopening the record for more evidence would serve no purpose." Breeden v. Weinberger, 493 F.2d 1002, 1012 (4th Cir. 1974).

The court may remand a case to the Commissioner for a rehearing under sentence four or sentence six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Sargent v. Sullivan, 941 F.2d 1207 (4th Cir. 1991) (unpublished table decision). To remand under sentence four, the reviewing court must find either that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence or that the Commissioner incorrectly applied the law relevant to the disability claim. See, e.g., Jackson v. Chater, 99 F.3d 1086, 1090-91 (11th Cir. 1996) (holding remand was appropriate where the ALJ failed to develop a full and fair record of the claimant's residual functional capacity); Brehem v. Harris, 621 F.2d 688, 690 (5th Cir. 1980) (holding remand was appropriate where record was insufficient to affirm but was also insufficient for court...

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