United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division
PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
A. EIFERT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
action seeks a review of the decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration (hereinafter
“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's
applications for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental
security income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433,
1381-1383f. The matter is assigned to the Honorable Joseph R.
Goodwin, United States District Judge, and was referred to
the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge by standing
order for submission of proposed findings of fact and
recommendations for disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B). Presently pending before the Court are
Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Judgment on the Pleadings
and the Commissioner's Brief in Support of
Defendant's Decision, requesting judgment in her favor.
(ECF Nos. 16, 17).
following reasons, the undersigned
RECOMMENDS that Plaintiff's motion for
judgment on the pleadings be GRANTED, to the
extent that it requests remand of the Commissioner's
decision; that the Commissioner's motion for judgment on
the pleadings be DENIED; that the decision
of the Commissioner be REVERSED; that this
matter be REMANDED pursuant to sentence four
of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); and that this case be
DISMISSED, with prejudice,
and removed from the docket of the Court.
19, 2013, Plaintiff Tammi Jo Moore (“Claimant”),
completed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging a disability
onset date of May 1, 2000, (Tr. at 348-60), due to
“back problems, dizzy spells, depression, and shingles,
” (Tr. at 390). The Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) denied Claimant's applications
initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. at 196, 204).
Claimant filed a request for an administrative hearing, which
was held on October 30, 2015, before the Honorable Sabrina M.
Tilley, Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”).
(Tr. at 117-45). During the hearing, Claimant amended her
alleged onset date to June 30, 2013. (Tr. at 120). By written
decision dated December 14, 2015, the ALJ found that Claimant
was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act. (Tr.
at 96-109). The ALJ's decision became the final decision
of the Commissioner on January 4, 2017 when the Appeals
Council denied Claimant's request for review. (Tr. at
timely filed the present civil action seeking judicial review
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (ECF No. 2). The
Commissioner subsequently filed an Answer opposing
Claimant's complaint and a Transcript of Proceedings.
(ECF Nos. 8, 9). Thereafter, Claimant filed a Brief in
Support of Judgment on the Pleadings, (ECF No. 16), the
Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of Defendant's
Decision, (ECF No. 17), and Claimant filed a reply, (ECF No.
22). Consequently, the matter is fully briefed and ready for
was 40 years old at the time that she filed the instant
applications for benefits, and 43 years old on the date of
the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 376). She completed high
school and communicates in English. (Tr. at 389, 391).
Claimant previously worked as a grocery clerk, home health
aide, and teacher's aide. (Tr. at 140-41).
Summary of ALJ's Decision
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5), a claimant seeking disability
benefits has the burden of proving a disability. See
Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (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 has lasted or 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 five-step sequential
evaluation process for the adjudication of disability claims.
If an individual is found “not disabled” at any
step of the process, further inquiry is unnecessary and
benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4). The first step in the sequence is determining
whether a claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful employment. Id. §§ 404.1520(b),
416.920(b). If the claimant is not, then the second step
requires a determination of whether the claimant suffers from
a severe impairment. Id. §§ 404.1520(c),
416.920(c). A severe impairment is one that
“significantly limits [a claimant's] physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.”
Id. If severe impairment is present, the third
inquiry is whether this impairment meets or equals any of the
impairments listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the
Administrative Regulations No. 4 (the “Listing”).
Id. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so,
then the claimant is found disabled and awarded benefits.
if the impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment,
the adjudicator must assess the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), which is the measure
of the claimant's ability to engage in substantial
gainful activity despite the limitations of his or her
impairments. Id. §§ 404.1520(e),
416.920(e). After making this determination, the fourth step
is to ascertain whether the claimant's impairments
prevent the performance of past relevant work. Id.
§§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). If the impairments do
prevent the performance of past relevant work, then the
claimant has established a prima facie case of
disability, and the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
demonstrate, in the fifth and final step of the process, that
the claimant is able to perform other forms of substantial
gainful activity, given the claimant's remaining physical
and mental capacities, age, education, and prior work
experiences. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g);
see also McLain v. Schweiker, 715 F.2d 866, 868-69
(4th Cir. 1983). The Commissioner must establish two things:
(1) that the claimant, considering his or her age, education,
skills, work experience, and physical shortcomings has the
capacity to perform an alternative job, and (2) that this
specific job exists in significant numbers in the national
economy. McLamore v. Weinberger, 538 F.2d 572, 574
(4th Cir. 1976).
the ALJ determined as a preliminary matter that Claimant met
the insured status for disability insurance benefits through
December 31, 2017. (Tr. at 98, Finding No. 1). At the first
step of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that
Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since June 30, 2013, the amended alleged onset date. (Tr. at
98, Finding No. 2). At the second step of the evaluation, the
ALJ found that Claimant had the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine,
obesity, plantar fasciitis, heel spur, and obstructive sleep
apnea. (Tr. at 98-99, Finding No. 3). The ALJ also considered
Claimant's median neuropathy in her wrists, type II
herpes, thyroid problems, dizziness and vertigo, and mental
impairments, but concluded that such impairments were
non-severe. (Tr. at 99-102).
the third inquiry, the ALJ found that Claimant did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled any of the impairments contained in the
Listing. (Tr. at 102, Finding No. 4). Accordingly, the ALJ
determined that Claimant possessed:
[T]he residual functional capacity to perform a range of
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a) with occasional lifting/carrying of 10 pounds,
frequent lifting/carrying of less than 10 pounds, standing
and/or walking of two hours in an eight-hour workday; and
sitting six hours in an eight-hour workday. She can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally balance and stoop,
but never kneel, crouch, and crawl. She can perform
occasionally overhead reaching and frequently, but not
continuous handle finger and feel bilaterally. She can
tolerate occasional exposure to extreme temperatures,
vibrations, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation, and
hazards. She retains the capacity to understand, remember,
and carry out instructions for the completion of simple,
unskilled tasks. She can respond appropriately to
interactions with co-workers, supervisors, and the general
public. She can make adjustment to changes in the work
(Tr. at 103-107, Finding No. 5).
fourth step, the ALJ found that Claimant was unable to
perform any past relevant work. (Tr. at 107, Finding No. 6).
Under the fifth and final inquiry, the ALJ reviewed
Claimant's past work experience, age, and education in
combination with her RFC to determine her ability to engage
in substantial gainful activity. (Tr. at 107, Finding Nos.
7-10). The ALJ considered that (1) Claimant was defined as a
younger individual aged 18-44 on the alleged disability onset
date, (2) she had at least a high school education and could
communicate in English; and (3) transferability of job skills
was not material to the disability determination. (Tr. at
107, Finding Nos. 7-9). Given these factors and
Claimant's RFC, with the assistance of a vocational
expert, the ALJ concluded that Claimant could perform jobs
that existed in significant numbers in the national economy,
including a document preparer, product inspector, and
surveillance system monitor. (Tr. at 107-08, Finding No. 10).
Therefore, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled as
defined in the Social Security Act. (Tr. at 108, Finding No.
Claimant's Challenge to the Commissioner's
contends that the ALJ's RFC determination that Claimant
could occasionally balance and did not require a sit/stand
option is not supported by substantial evidence, thus
rendering the ALJ's step five denial of benefits without
support. (ECF No. 16 at 8). Claimant states that there is not
sufficient evidentiary support for the ALJ's RFC
determination because the ALJ did not state why she did not
adopt the opinion of the consultative examiner, Miraflor G.
Khorshad, M.D., that Claimant needed to alternate sitting and
standing and could not balance. (Id. at 11).
Claimant notes that such functions are of critical importance
because the ...