United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington
L. Tinsley United States Magistrate Judge.
before this Court is Plaintiff's Brief in Support of
Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF No. 12) and Brief in Support
of Defendant's Decision (ECF No. 13). This is an action
seeking review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security denying Claimant's applications for disability
insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II and supplemental
security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act. The parties consented to the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge ordering the entry of final judgement.
Jennifer L. Quintal, filed an application for DIB on January
11, 2011, and for SSI on January 25, 2011. Claimant alleged
disability beginning August 9, 2009. Claimant's
applications were denied initially on May 17, 2011, and upon
reconsideration on August 18, 2011. On October 12, 2011,
Claimant requested a hearing. On September 11, 2012, a
hearing was held before and Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in
Huntington, West Virginia. The ALJ denied Claimant's
claims by decision dated November 19, 2012. Claimant filed a
request for review by the Appeals Council (AC) on January 22,
2013. On March 26, 2014, the AC remanded this case for
further proceedings. Pursuant to the AC's remand order, a
video hearing was conducted on June 24, 2014. Claimant
appeared in Huntington, West Virginia, with the ALJ presiding
over the hearing from Mars, Pennsylvania. On July 14, 2014,
the ALJ denied Claimant's claims. On September 16, 2014,
Claimant filed a request for review by the AC. On October 15,
2015, the AC denied Claimant's request. Thereafter,
Claimant filed the present action.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5) and ' 1382c(a)(3)(H)(i), a
claimant for disability benefits has the burden of proving a
disability. See Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773,
774 (4th Cir. 1972). A disability is defined as the
"inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity
by reason of any medically determinable impairment which can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
Social Security Regulations establish a "sequential
evaluation" for the adjudication of disability claims.
20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520, 416.920 (2016). If an
individual is found "not disabled" at any step,
further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. ''
404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The first inquiry under the sequence
is whether a claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful employment. Id. '' 404.1520(b),
416.920(b). If the claimant is not, the second inquiry is
whether claimant suffers from a severe impairment.
Id. '' 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If a severe
impairment is present, the third inquiry is whether such
impairment meets or equals any of the impairments listed in
Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the Administrative Regulations No.
4. Id. '' 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If it
does, the claimant is found disabled and awarded benefits.
Id. If it does not, the fourth inquiry is whether
the claimant's impairments prevent the performance of
past relevant work. Id. '' 404.1520(e),
416.920(e). By satisfying inquiry four, the claimant
establishes a prima facie case of disability.
Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264 (4th Cir. 1981).
The burden then shifts to the Commissioner, McLain v.
Schweiker, 715 F.2d 866, 868-69 (4th Cir. 1983), and
leads to the fifth and final inquiry: whether the claimant is
able to perform other forms of substantial gainful activity,
considering claimant's remaining physical and mental
capacities and claimant's age, education and prior work
experience. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520(f), 416.920(f)
(2016). The Commissioner must show two things: (1) that the
claimant, considering claimant's age, education, work
experience, skills and physical shortcomings, has the
capacity to perform an alternative job, and (2) that this
specific job exists in the national economy. McLamore v.
Weinberger, 538 F.2d 572, 574 (4th Cir. 1976).
particular case, the ALJ determined that Claimant satisfied
the first inquiry because she has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity during the period from alleged onset date of
August 9, 2009, through her date last insured of March 31,
2016 (Tr. at 13). Under the second inquiry, the ALJ found
that Claimant suffers from the following severe impairments:
obesity, diabetes mellitus, diabetic neuropathy, left
supraspinatus tendinopathy and impingent; left trapezius
strain; moderate to severe right carpal tunnel syndrome,
status-post carpal tunnel release surgery; moderate left
carpal tunnel syndrome, status-post carpal tunnel release
surgery; chondromalacia of the left knee status/post surgery,
bipolar disorder; anxiety disorder; and personality disorder.
(Id.) At the third inquiry, the ALJ concluded that
Claimant's impairments do not meet or equal the level of
severity of any listing in Appendix 1 (Tr. at 15). The ALJ
then found that Claimant has the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform light work (Tr. At 17). The ALJ held that
Claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. at
26). The ALJ relied on the vocational expert's (VE)
testimony and held that Claimant could perform the positions
of price marker and routine clerk at the light level and
inspector and sorter at the sedentary level (Tr. at 27). On
this basis, benefits were denied. (Id.)
sole issue before this court is whether the final decision of
the Commissioner denying the claim is supported by
substantial evidence. In Blalock v. Richardson,
substantial evidence was defined as:
[E]vidence 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
Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 776 (4th Cir.
1972) (quoting Laws v. Cellebreze, 368 F.2d 640, 642
(4th Cir. 1966)). Additionally, the Commissioner, not the
court, is charged with resolving conflicts in the evidence.
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
1990). In reviewing for substantial evidence, the Court does
not undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make
credibility determinations or substitute its judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Id. “Where
conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to
whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that
decision falls on the Secretary (or the Secretary's
designate, the ALJ).” Walker v. Bowen, 834
F.2d 635, 640 (7th Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, the
courts Amust not abdicate their traditional functions; they
cannot escape their duty to scrutinize the record as a whole
to determine whether the conclusions reached are
rational." Oppenheim v. Finch, 495 F.2d 396,
397 (4th Cir. 1974).
careful review of the record reveals the decision of the
Commissioner is not supported by substantial evidence.
was born on July 11, 1974. She is divorced and lives in an
apartment with her son. Her daughter lives across the street
(Tr. at 74). On the date of the hearing, Claimant was 5 foot
2 inches tall and weighed 245 pounds (Tr. at 50). Claimant
graduated from high school (Tr. at 109). She has been taking
online classes in accounting, off and on, towards a
bachelor's degree since the 1990s (Tr. at 106). Claimant
has taken a computer ...