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Self v. Colvin

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

December 4, 2014

TRACY SELF, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.

I. Introduction

The plaintiff, Tracy Self, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Mr. Self timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

Mr. Self was forty-seven years old at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ's") decision, and he has a tenth grade education. (Tr. at 140.) His past work experiences include employment as a heavy equipment operator, production worker, and rock truck driver. (Tr. at 143, 156.) Mr. Self claims that he became disabled on September 8, 2010, due to osteoarthritis/degenerative disk disease of the lumbar spine, degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder status post shotgun wound, degenerative joint disease of the left knee, diabetes mellitus, obesity, a depressive order, an anxiety disorder, and borderline intellectual abilities. (Tr. at 12.)

The Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled and thus eligible for DIB or SSI. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The evaluator will follow the steps in order until making a finding of either disabled or not disabled; if no finding is made, the analysis will proceed to the next step. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The first step requires the evaluator to determine whether the plaintiff is engaged in substantial gainful activity. See id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the plaintiff is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the evaluator moves on to the next step.

The second step requires the evaluator to consider the combined severity of the plaintiff's medically determinable physical and mental impairments. See id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An individual impairment or combination of impairments that is not classified as "severe" and does not satisfy the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509 and 416.909 will result in a finding of not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). The decision depends on the medical evidence contained in the record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971) (concluding that "substantial medical evidence in the record" adequately supported the finding that plaintiff was not disabled).

Similarly, the third step requires the evaluator to consider whether the plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments meets or is medically equal to the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the criteria of a listed impairment and the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509 and 416.909 are satisfied, the evaluator will make a finding of disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).

If the plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, the evaluator must determine the plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") before proceeding to the fourth step. See id. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). The fourth step requires the evaluator to determine whether the plaintiff has the RFC to perform the requirements of his past relevant work. See id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does not prevent him from performing his past relevant work, the evaluator will make a finding of not disabled. See id.

The fifth and final step requires the evaluator to consider the plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and work experience in order to determine whether the plaintiff can make an adjustment to other work. See id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the plaintiff can perform other work, the evaluator will find him not disabled. Id. ; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the plaintiff cannot perform other work, the evaluator will find him disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g), 416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.920(g).

Applying the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Mr. Self meets the non-disability requirements for a period of disability and DIB and was insured through the date of her decision. (Tr. at 12.) She further determined that Mr. Self has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of his disability. ( Id. ) According to the ALJ, Plaintiff's osteoarthritis/degenerative disk disease of the lumbar spine, degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder status post shotgun wound, diabetes mellitus, obesity, a depressive disorder not otherwise specified, and an anxiety order not otherwise specified are considered "severe" based on the requirements set forth in the regulations. ( Id. ) However, she found that these impairments neither meet nor medically equal any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. at 13.) The ALJ determined that Mr. Self has the following RFC: less than the full range of light work; he can occasionally lift and/or carry up to twenty pounds and frequently lift and/or carry up to ten pounds; he can stand and/or walk, in combination with normal breaks, for up to six hours during an eight hour workday; he can sit, with normal breaks, for up to eight hours during an eight-hour workday; he cannot be required to perform push/pull movements with his right upper extremity or reach above the shoulder level; he has no limitations in his abilities to perform fine and gross manipulations; he can frequently climb ramps and stairs; he should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he can frequently balance and occasionally kneel, stoop, and crouch but never crawl; he should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and areas of vibration; he should avoid all exposure to industrial hazards; he can perform simple routine tasks requiring no more than short simple instructions and simple work-related decision making with few workplace changes; he can have occasional interaction with members of the general public. ( Id. )

According to the ALJ, Mr. Self is unable to perform any of his past relevant work, he is a "younger individual, " and he has a "limited education, " as those terms are defined by the regulations. (Tr. at 20.) She also determined that transferability of skills is not an issue in this case. ( Id. ) After eliciting testimony from a vocational expert ("VE"), the ALJ determined that there is a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Mr. Self is capable of performing, such as bond machine tender, scale operator, and plastic parts inspector. ( Id. ) The ALJ concluded her findings by stating that Plaintiff "was not under a disability, ' as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time through the date of this decision." ( Id. )

II. Standard of Review

This Court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of its review is limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the Commissioner, and (2) whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Stone v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 544 F.Appx. 839, 841 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004)). This Court gives deference to the factual findings of the Commissioner, provided those findings are supported by substantial evidence, but applies close scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996).

Nonetheless, this Court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004)). "The substantial evidence standard permits administrative decision makers to act with considerable latitude, and the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence.'" Parker v. Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177, 1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J., dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Fed. Mar. Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if this Court finds that the proof preponderates against ...


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