United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division
MELISSA J. STAATS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION
L. Tinsley, United States Magistrate Judge
before this Court are Plaintiff's Brief in Support of
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF No. 7) and
Defendant's Brief in Support of Defendant's Decision
(ECF No. 8).
April 26, 2013, Claimant filed a Title II application for
disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) alleging
disability beginning October 15, 2008. The Claim was denied
initially on August 13, 2013, and again upon reconsideration
on October 23, 2013. On December 10, 2013, 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 Parkersburg, West Virginia, while the
ALJ presided over the hearing from Charleston, West Virginia.
On June 8, 2015, the ALJ denied Claimant's application
for disability (Tr. at 10-26). On July 7, 2015, Claimant
filed a request for review by the Appeals Council (AC) (Tr.
at 31-36). On September 7, 2016, the AC denied Claimant's
request for review (Tr. at 1-5). On November 4, 2016,
Claimant filed a complaint before the District Court (ECF No.
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 October 15,
2008, and meets the insured status requirements through June
30, 2013 (Tr. at 12). Under the second inquiry, the ALJ found
that Claimant suffers from the severe impairment of
osteoarthritis, diabetes mellitus, obesity, fibromyalgia,
coronary artery disease, left rotator cuff tear, degenerative
disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine and carpal
tunnel syndrome. (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 15).
The ALJ then found that Claimant has a residual functional
capacity to perform work at the sedentary exertional level
except she should never engage in the climbing of ladders,
ropes or scaffolds. She could occasionally engage in other
postural maneuvers such as climbing ramps and/or stairs,
balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling. This
individual could frequently engage in reaching of the
non-dominant left upper extremity. Further, this individual
could frequently engage in bilateral handling, fingering and
feeling. She should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme
cold, excessive vibrations and workplace hazards (Tr. at 17).
The ALJ held that Claimant was unable to perform any past
relevant work through the date last insured (Tr. at 24). The
ALJ held that Claimant could perform the requirements of
representative occupations such as surveillance systems
monitor, document preparation and credit clerk (Tr. at 25).
On this basis, benefits were denied (Tr. at 25-26).
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
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).
careful review of the record reveals the decision of the
Commissioner in this case is not supported by substantial
was born February 28, 1969 (Tr. at 44). At the time of the
hearing, she was married and lived with her husband and two
sons (Tr. at 45). Claimant's two sons were ages 18 and
20. (Id.) Claimant has a high school education and
was certified as an Infant Toddler Specialist for a prior
position working at a day care (Tr. at 47). Claimant has a