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Cooper v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division

October 16, 2014

JANET COOPER, Plaintiff
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant

MEMORANDUM OPINION

HARWELL G. DAVIS, III, Magistrate Judge.

In this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), plaintiff seeks judicial review of an adverse social security ruling which denied claims for disability insurance benefits (hereinafter DIB). (Doc.1). The parties filed written consent and this action has been assigned to the undersigned Magistrate Judge to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. ( See Doc. 13). Upon consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, the court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be affirmed and this action dismissed.

I. Proceedings Below

Plaintiff in this action, Janet Stickels Cooper, protectively filed for a period of disability and DIB on February 16, 2010, alleging that she became disabled on June 18, 2009. (Tr. 9, 119-25). Her application was denied administratively and plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The hearing was held before the ALJ on January 4, 2012, who denied plaintiff's claim. In a decision dated April 6, 2012, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 9-18). Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council, which was denied on April 8, 2013. (Tr.1-3). The Commissioner's decision is ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

II. ALJ Decision

Disability under the Act is determined under a five-step test. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). "Substantial work activity" is work that involves doing significant physical or mental activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a). "Gainful work activity" is work that is done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment or a combination of medical impairments that significantly limits the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). Absent such impairment, the claimant may not claim disability. Id. Third, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant's impairment meets or medically equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526. If such criteria are met, the claimant is declared disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).

If the claimant does not fulfill the requirements necessary to be declared disabled under the third step, the ALJ may still find disability under the next two steps of the analysis. The ALJ first must determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), which refers to the claimant's ability to work despite his impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). In the fourth step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has the RFC to perform past relevant work, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant is determined to be capable of performing past relevant work, then the claimant is deemed not disabled. Id. If the ALJ finds that the claimant is unable to perform past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). In the last part of the analysis, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is able to perform any other work commensurate with his RFC, age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). Here, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the ALJ to prove the existence in significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can do given the RFC, age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 404.1560(c).

The ALJ followed this protocol, finding, at the second step, that plaintiff has the following severe impairments: uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, type II; obesity; right shoulder degenerative joint disease; and major depressive disorder. (Tr. 12). The ALJ then found that plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments do not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subp. P, Appx. 1. (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526). This was not contested by plaintiff. (Tr. 13).

At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work. (Tr. 16). However, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had a RFC limited to a light range of work; that is, she is limited to (1) lifting/carrying less than ten pounds occasionally and frequently; (2) infrequent postural maneuvers such as balancing, stooping, kneeling, and climbing ramps and stairs; (3) occupations that do not require climbing ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; (4) occasionally crouching and crawling; (5) avoid overhead reaching with the right upper extremity; (6) avoid concentrated heat or cold temperature extremes; (7) avoid unprotected heights; (8) simple instructions with no detailed instructions; and (9) concentrating and remaining on task for two hours at a time, sufficient to complete an eight-hour day. (Tr. 13).

Based on the RFC and vocational profile of plaintiff, the ALJ elicited testimony from a vocational expert (VE) who testified that, given these restrictions, plaintiff can perform light jobs, such as electrical assembler, poultry trimmer, and inspector/hand packager, that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. After considering the VE's testimony, the ALJ found plaintiff was not disabled under the Act during the relevant period from June 18, 2009, to April 6, 2012. (Tr. 18).

III. Issues Presented

On appeal, plaintiff alleges that (1) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the credibility of the plaintiff's complaints of pain consistent with the Eleventh Circuit's Pain Standard, and (2) substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's RFC determination. ( See Doc. 11, Plaintiff's Brief, at 1-13).

IV. Standard of Review

The only issues before this court are whether the record reveals substantial evidence to sustain the ALJ's decision, see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Walden v. Schweiker , 672 F.2d 835, 838 (11th Cir. 1982), and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Lamb v. Bowen , 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Chester v. Brown , 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) mandates that the Commissioner's findings are conclusive if supported by "substantial evidence." Martin v. Sullivan , 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). The district court may not reconsider the facts, re-evaluate the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner; instead, it must review the final ...


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