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McRoberts v. Berryhill

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

February 28, 2018

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


          Dwane L. Tinsley, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pending before this Court is a complaint filed on October 17, 2016, by David Martin McRoberts, Claimant (ECF No. 2). On March 17, 2017, Defendant filed an Answer to the Complaint (ECF No. 7). Claimant did not file a Motion in Support of Judgement on the Pleadings and Defendant did not file a Brief in Support of the Defendant's Decision; therefore, the Proposed Findings and Recommendation will be made on the merits of the case.

         On May 24, 2013, Claimant filed a Title II application for disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) alleging disability beginning February 2, 2012.[1] The claim was denied initially on July 26, 2013, and again upon reconsideration on November 19, 2013. On January 7, 2014, Claimant filed a written request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

         On May 19, 2015, an ALJ held a video hearing. Claimant appeared in Logan, West Virginia and the ALJ presided over the hearing from Charleston, West Virginia. On June 26, 2015, the ALJ denied Claimant's application for disability (Tr. at 14-25). On approximately August 24, 2015, Claimant filed a request for review by the Appeals Council (AC) (Tr. at 9-10). On September 22, 2016, the AC denied Claimant's request for review (Tr. at 1-5). On October 17, 2016, Claimant filed a complaint before the District Court.

         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) (2016). 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 satisfied the first inquiry because he has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of April 1, 2013, and meets the insured status requirements through March 31, 2018 (Tr. at 16). Under the second inquiry, the ALJ found that Claimant suffers from the severe impairments of: degenerative joint disease with avascular necrosis in the left hip, status post total replacement; torn meniscus of the left knee; obesity; status post cerebrovascular accident; cognitive disorder; status post testicular cancer with metastases and radiation-induced cerebral vasculopathy; and hearing loss. (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 18). The ALJ then found that Claimant has a residual functional capacity to perform work at the sedentary exertional level except he should never climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds, but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. Claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. He can have no exposure to unprotected heights or loud, industrial-type background noise. Claimant can perform basic two-to-three step tasks only (Tr. at 20). The ALJ held that Claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. at 24). The ALJ held that Claimant could perform the requirements of representative occupations such as assembler, surveillance system monitor and sorter/inspector (Tr. at 25). On this basis, benefits were denied. (Id.)

         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:

Evidence 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 “must 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 July 16, 1967 (Tr. at 39). Claimant lives with his parents in Peach Creek, West Virginia (Tr. at 38). He graduated from high school and took two years of college ...

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