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Turley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

January 16, 2018

DELANA LYNN TURLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          DWANE L. TINSLEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pending before this Court are Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF No. 10), Defendant's Brief in Support of Defendant's Decision (ECF No.11) and Plaintiff's Reply to Brief in Support of Defendant's Decision (ECF No. 12).

         Background

         Previous Application

         On December 12, 2011, Delana Lynn Turley, Claimant, filed a Title II application for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning November 30, 2009. The application was denied initially on May 11, 2012, and upon reconsideration on June 19, 2012. On July 9, 2012, Claimant filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. A hearing was held on July 25, 2013. On October 2, 2013, the Administrative Law Judge denied Claimant's decision. Claimant did not appeal the ALJ's decision.

         Current Applications

         On November 15, 2013, Claimant applied for disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II. Claimant alleges that her disability began on November 30, 2009. Her DIB application was denied initially on March 22, 2014, and upon consideration on August 6, 2014 (Tr. at 125- 139). On September 10, 2014, Claimant filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

         On October 16, 2014, Claimant applied for supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI. Claimant alleged that her disability began on November 30, 2009. The SSI application was escalated to the hearing level to be adjudicated with her DIB claim (Tr. at 186-191).

         On May 20, 2016, an ALJ presided over a video hearing from Kansas City, Missouri. Claimant appeared from Charleston, West Virginia. On July 25, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision stating that he found no basis upon which to reopen Claimant's prior DIB Title II application (Tr. at 20). The ALJ stated that he considered Social Security Ruling 91-5p[1] and found that it does not apply to Claimant's DIB application. Therefore, the ALJ held “[T]his application will only consider the time period from October 3, 2013, forward, or one day subsequent to the date of the last Administrative Law Judge decision (20 CFR 404.957(c)(1))”. (Id.) The ALJ found that “the previous determination on the Title II application is final and binding from December 12, 2011.” (Id.) The ALJ found that based on Claimant's application for DIB filed on November 15, 2013, Claimant is not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act (Tr. at 32).

         In regards to Claimant's SSI application, the ALJ stated “I note the claimant's subsequent Title XVI application for supplemental security income on October 16, 2014, which was escalated to the hearing level.” On July 25, 2016, the ALJ found that based on Claimant's application for SSI filed on October 16, 2014, Claimant is not disabled under section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. (Id.) After receiving an extension of time, Claimant requested review by the Appeals Council (AC) of the ALJ's decision (Tr. at 15). On January 20, 2017, the AC denied Claimant's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Claimant filed the instant action seeking judicial review and requesting remand of the ALJ's decision.

         Standard of Review

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5), a claimant for disability 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).

         The Social Security Regulations establish a "sequential evaluation" for the adjudication of disability claims. 20 C.F.R.' 404.1520 (2017). If an individual is found "not disabled" at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. ' 404.1520(a). The first inquiry under the sequence is whether a claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful employment. Id. ' 404.1520(b). If the claimant is not, the second inquiry is whether claimant suffers from a severe impairment. Id. ' 404.1520(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). 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). 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) (2017). 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).

         When a claimant alleges a mental impairment, the Social Security Administration “ must follow a special technique at every level in the administrative review process.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a(a) and 416.920a(a). First, the SSA evaluates the claimant's pertinent symptoms, signs and laboratory findings to determine whether the claimant has a medically determinable mental impairment and documents its findings if the claimant is determined to have such an impairment. Second, the SSA rates and documents the degree of functional limitation resulting from the impairment according to criteria as specified in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a(c) and 416.920a(c). Those sections provide as follows:

         (c) Rating the degree of ...


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