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Vance v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia, Wheeling

December 11, 2017

CLIFTON VANCE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ROBERT W. TRUMBLE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case arises from the denial of Plaintiff Clifton Vance's (“Plaintiff”) Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Title XVI application for supplemental security income (“SSI”). After Plaintiff's application proceeded through the administrative process, a United States Administrative Law Judge Mark A. O'Hara (“the ALJ”) concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Now, Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision. Because the ALJ's decision to deny Plaintiff's claim for DIB and SSI is supported by substantial evidence, the undersigned recommends that Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be denied and Defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 12, 2013, Plaintiff filed a claim for disability, DIB, and SSI, alleging that his disability began on April 15, 2012. R. 254-60. Plaintiff's claims were denied initially, R. 143-45, 150-52, and on reconsideration, R. 156-63. After these denials, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing before an ALJ. R. 164-65. On February 12, 2016, a hearing was held before the ALJ in Petersburg, West Virginia. R. 39-83. Plaintiff, represented by counsel Steven Shea, Esq., and Jeannie Deal, an impartial vocational expert, appeared in person. R. 39. Approximately four months later, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. R. 16-33. On September 9, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 1-4.

         On November 8, 2016, Plaintiff, through counsel Scott B. Elkind, Esq., filed a Complaint in this Court to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2015). Compl., ECF No. 1. The Commissioner, through counsel Helen Campbell Altmeyer, Assistant United States Attorney, filed her Answer and the Administrative Record of the proceedings on February 13, 2017. Answer, ECF No. 8; Admin. R., ECF No. 9. Soon thereafter, Plaintiff and the Commissioner filed their Motions for Summary Judgment and their supporting briefs on March 15, 2017 and April 13, 2017, respectively. Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 12; Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 15.

         The matter is now before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation to the District Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule of Civil Procedure 9.02(a). Having reviewed the parties' motions and the administrative record, the undersigned now issues the following Report and Recommendation.

         III. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS

         To be disabled under the Social Security Act, a claimant must meet the following criteria:

[The] individual . . . [must have a] physical or mental impairment or impairments . . . of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. . . . '[W]ork which exists in the national economy' means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.

42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B). The Social Security Administration uses the following five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled:

(i) At the first step, we consider your work activity, if any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will find that you are not disabled.
(ii) At the second step, we consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you do not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that meets the duration requirement [of twelve months] . . . or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are not disabled.
(iii) At the third step, we also consider the medical severity of your impairments(s). If you have an impairment(s) that meets or equals one of our listings . . . and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are disabled.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). “If your impairment(s) does not meet or equal a listed impairment, we will assess and make a finding about your residual functional capacity [(“RFC”)] based on all the relevant medical and other evidence in your case record, as explained in § 404.1545.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920 (e).

(iv) At the fourth step, we consider our assessment of your [RFC] and your past relevant work. If you can still do your past relevant work, we will find that you are not disabled.
(v) At the fifth and last step, we consider our assessment of your [RFC] and your age, education, and work experience to see if you can make an adjustment to other work. If you can make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are not disabled. If you cannot make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are disabled.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). In steps one through four, the burden is on the claimant to prove that he or she is disabled and that, as a result of the disability, he or she is unable to engage in any gainful employment. Richardson v. Califano, 574 F.2d 802, 804 (4th Cir. 1978). Once the claimant so proves, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to demonstrate that jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant is capable of performing. Hicks v. Gardner, 393 F.2d 299, 301 (4th Cir. 1968). If the claimant is determined to be disabled ...


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