United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division
PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION
L. TINSLEY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
before this Court is Plaintiff's Brief in Support of
Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF No. 10), Defendant's Brief
in Support of Defendant's Decision (ECF No. 12) and
Plaintiff's Reply to Brief in Support of Defendant's
Decision (ECF No. 13). 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.
Louie Browning, filed an application for DIB on July 9, 2014.
Claimant alleged disability beginning June 3, 2014. The claim
was denied initially on October 15, 2014, and upon
reconsideration on February 25, 2015. Claimant filed a
request for hearing on March 25, 2015. A video hearing was
held on January 17, 2017. Claimant appeared in Logan, West
Virginia, and the Administrative Law Judge presided over the
hearing from Charleston, West Virginia. The Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) denied Claimant's application on February
3, 2017. On March 31, 2017, Claimant sought review of the
ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. The Appeals
Council denied Claimant's request for review on August
29, 2017 (Tr. at 1-6). Subsequently, on October 27, 2017,
Claimant filed the present complaint seeking judicial review
of the administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
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, 416.920 (2017). If an
individual is found "not disabled" at any step,
further inquiry is unnecessary. Id. §§
404.1520(a), 416.920. The first inquiry under the sequence is
whether a claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful employment. Id. §§ 404.1520(b),
416.920. If the claimant is not, the second inquiry is
whether claimant suffers from a severe impairment.
Id. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920. 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), 416.920. 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),
416.920. 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), 416.920
(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).
claimant alleges a mental impairment, the Social Security
Administration “must follow a special technique at
every level in the administrative review process.” 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a(a) and 416.920a(a). First, the
SSA evaluates the claimant's pertinent symptoms, signs
and laboratory findings to determine whether the claimant has
a medically determinable mental impairment and documents its
findings if the claimant is determined to have such an
impairment. Second, the SSA rates and documents the degree of
functional limitation resulting from the impairment according
to criteria as specified in 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520a(c) and 416.920a(c). Those sections provide as
(c) Rating the degree of functional limitation.
(1) Assessment of functional limitations is a complex and
highly individualized process that requires us to consider
multiple issues and all relevant evidence to obtain a
longitudinal picture of your overall degree of functional
limitation. We will consider all relevant and available
clinical signs and laboratory findings, the effects of your
symptoms, and how your functioning may be affected by factors
including, but not limited to, chronic mental disorders,
structured settings, medication and other treatment.
(2) We will rate the degree of your functional limitation
based on the extent to which your impairment(s) interferes
with your ability to function independently, appropriately,
effectively, and on a sustained basis. Thus, we will consider
such factors as the quality and level of your overall
functional performance, any episodic limitations, the amount
of supervision or assistance you require, and the settings in
which you are able to function. See 12.00C through 12.00H of
the Listing of Impairments in appendix 1 to this subpart for
more information about the factors we consider when we rate
the degree of your functional limitation.
(3) We have identified four broad functional areas in which
we will rate the degree of your functional limitation:
Activities of daily living; social functioning;
concentration, persistence, or pace; and episodes of
decompensation. See 12.00C of the Listings of Impairments.
(4) When we rate the degree of limitation in the first three
functional areas (activities of daily living, social
functioning; and concentration, persistence, or pace), we
will use the following five-point scale: None, mild,
moderate, marked, and extreme. When we rate the degree of
limitation in the fourth functional area (episodes of
decompensation), we will use the following four-point scale:
None, one or two, three, four or more. The last point on ...