United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia
PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION
L. TINSLEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
before this Court is Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of
Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF No. 10), Defendant's Brief
in Support of Defendant's Decision (ECF No. 13) and
Plaintiff's Reply to Brief in Support of Defendant's
Decision (ECF No. 14). This is an action seeking review of
the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying
Claimant's application for disability insurance benefits
(DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act.
Laura Ann Hawkins, filed an application for DIB on May 2,
2013. Claimant alleged disability beginning February 13,
2012. The claim was denied initially on August 13, 2013, and
upon reconsideration on October 28, 2013. Claimant filed a
request for hearing on December 6, 2013. A video hearing was
held on February 11, 2015. Claimant appeared in Parkersburg,
West Virginia, and the Administrative Law Judge presided over
the hearing from Charleston, West Virginia. The
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied Claimant's
applications on March 3, 2015 (Tr. at 11-25). The Appeals
Council denied Claimant's request for review on July 28,
2016 (Tr. at 1-5). 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 (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.
particular case, the ALJ determined that Claimant satisfied
the first inquiry because she has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date of February 13,
2012, and meets the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through June 30, 2017 (Tr. at 13). Under the
second inquiry, the ALJ found that Claimant suffers from the
severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar
and cervical spine; bilateral hip bursitis; diabetes;
migraines; and obesity. (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. The ALJ then
found that Claimant has a residual functional capacity to
perform light work with limitations (Tr. at 17). The ALJ
found Claimant would have the following limitations: Claimant
can only occasionally perform all postural activities. The
claimant is limited to occasional overhead reaching. She can
frequently push and pull within the weight restrictions of
light work. The claimant must have no exposure to loud
industrial type background noise. She must avoid concentrated
exposure to dusts, fumes, gases, poor ventilation, noxious
odors or other lung irritants. The claimant must have no
direct exposure to vibrations. (Id.) The ALJ found
that Claimant is able to perform as a cashier, fast-food
worker and customer service-cashier I/head cashier (Tr. at
24). On this basis, Claimant's application was denied
(Tr. at 25).
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. 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).
careful review of the record reveals the decision of the
Commissioner in this case is not supported by substantial