United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division
PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
L. Tinsley United States Magistrate Judge.
an action seeking review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying the Plaintiff's
applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under
Title II and supplemental security income (SSI) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act. By standing order, this case
was referred to this United States Magistrate Judge to
consider the pleadings and evidence, and to submit proposed
findings of fact and recommendations for disposition, all
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Presently pending
before this Court are Plaintiff's Brief in Support of
Complaint and Motion for Remand (ECF No. 12) and
Defendant's Brief in Support of Defendant's Decision
(ECF No. 13).
Robert George Walchli, filed an application for DIB on May
10, 2013. Claimant filed an application for SSI on June 18,
2013. In both applications, Claimant alleged disability
beginning January 1, 2008. The DIB claim was denied initially
on May 21, 2013. The SSI application was accelerated to the
reconsideration level. Upon reconsideration both claims were
denied on October 23, 2013. On December 3, 2013, Claimant
filed a written request for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). On January 27, 2015, Claimant
appeared for a hearing in Mt. Hope, West Virginia. An ALJ
presided over the video hearing from Roanoke, Virginia.
Subsequently, Claimant requested a supplemental hearing to
address the period of time prior to May 31, 2013, which is
the earliest date of documented treatment in this case. The
ALJ granted the request and held a supplemental video hearing
on July 27, 2015. On August 4, 2015, the ALJ issued a
“partially favorable” decision finding Claimant
disabled beginning May 31, 2013. Claimant requested a review
of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council (AC). The AC
denied the request for review on December 5, 2016.
Subsequently, Claimant brought the present action seeking
judicial review of the administrative decision pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
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).
Social Security Regulations establish a "sequential
evaluation" for the adjudication of disability claims.
20 C.F.R. '§ 404.1520 and 416.920 (2017). If an
individual is found "not disabled" at any step,
further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. ''
404.1520(a) and 416.920(a). The first inquiry under the
sequence is whether a claimant is currently engaged in
substantial gainful employment. Id. ''
404.1520(b) and 416.920(b). If the claimant is not, the
second inquiry is whether claimant suffers from a severe
impairment. Id. '' 404.1520(c) and
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) and 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) and 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) and 416.920(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).
particular case, the ALJ determined that Claimant satisfied
the first inquiry because he has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity during the period of time from his alleged
onset date of January 1, 2008, through his date last insured
(DLI) of December 31, 2012 (Tr. at 16). The ALJ stated
“Prior to May 31, 2013, the date the claimant became
disabled, there were no medical signs or laboratory findings
to substantiate the existence of a medically determinable
impairment.” The ALJ held that Claimant was not
disabled prior to May 31, 2013, but became disabled on that
date and has continued to be disabled through the date of
this decision. The ALJ stated that Claimant was not under a
disability at any time through December 31, 2012, the date
last insured. (Id.) Under the second inquiry, the
ALJ found that beginning on May 31, 2013, Claimant suffers
from the severe impairments of osteoarthritis, degenerative
disc disease of the lumbar, thoracic and cervical spine (Tr.
at 17). At the third inquiry, the ALJ concluded that since
May 31, 2013, Claimant's impairments do not meet or equal
the level of severity of any listing in Appendix 1.
(Id.) The ALJ then found that since May 31, 2013,
Claimant had a residual functional capacity to perform light
(Tr. at 18). Even so, the ALJ held that since May 31, 2013,
Claimant has been unable to perform any past relevant work
(Tr. at 22). The ALJ held that Claimant does not have work
skills from previous jobs that are transferrable to light or
sedentary work occupations that Claimant has performed in the
Considering the record as a whole, including the testimony of
the claimant, the undersigned finds that the claimant's
allegations regarding his symptoms and limitations are
generally credible as of May 31, 2013… Since that
date, descriptions of symptoms and limitations that the
claimant has proved throughout the record have been
consistent and persuasive (ECF No. 21).
held that “Since May 31, 2013, considering the
claimant's age, education, work experience and residual
functional capacity, there are no jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant
can perform” (Tr. at 23).
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). 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 ...