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Doty v. Berryhill

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

February 28, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


         Pending before this Court are Plaintiff's Memorandum in Brief in Support of Motion for 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).


         On April 10, 2013, Claimant applied for disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II and supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Claimant alleges that her disability began on February 3, 2009. Her applications were denied initially on July 17, 2013, and upon consideration on November 6, 2013. On December 10, 2013, Claimant filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). On April 16, 2015, an ALJ presided over a video hearing from Charleston, West Virginia. Claimant appeared in Parkersburg, West Virginia. On May 25, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying Claimant's applications (Tr. at 13-26). On July 22, 2015, Claimant requested review by the Appeals Council (AC) of the ALJ's decision (Tr. at 8). On September 30, 2016, 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 (2016). 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).

         In this particular case, the ALJ determined that Claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2013 (Tr. at 15). The ALJ found that Claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 3, 2009. Under the second inquiry, the ALJ found that Claimant suffers from the severe impairments of: cervical degenerative disc disease; degenerative joint disease/osteoarthritis of the left hip; obesity; major depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; and substance addiction disorder in early full remission. (Id.) At the third inquiry, the ALJ concluded that Claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the level of severity of any listing in Appendix 1 (Tr. at 16). The ALJ then found that Claimant has a residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work[1] (Tr. at 19). At the fifth inquiry of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. at 24). The ALJ found that Claimant could perform jobs such as inspector, security monitor and bench assembly (Tr. at 25). Therefore, the ALJ denied Claimant's applications.

         Subsequently, Claimant brought the present action seeking judicial review of the administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Scope of Review The 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 “substantial evidence.”

Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 776 (4th Cir. 1972) (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 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).

         A careful review of the record reveals the decision of the Commissioner in this case is not supported by substantial evidence.

         Claimant's Background Claimant was born on May 4, 1974 (Tr. at 45). On the date of the hearing, Claimant stood at 5 foot 2 inches and weighed 260 pounds. (Id.) She lives with her father. Claimant has a driver's license and drives once or twice a week (Tr. at 46). Claimant has an Associate's degree in liberal arts. (Id.)

         Medical Record

         The court has reviewed all evidence of record, including the medical evidence of record, and will ...

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