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Dockery v. Colvin

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

February 13, 2015

CRAIG L. DOCKERY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Craig L. Dockery ("Dockery"), appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying him application for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Dockery 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).

I. Introduction

Dockery was forty years old at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ's") decision. (Tr. at 55.) Dockery has a tenth grade education and has past work experience as a cable installer/repairer, wrecker/tow truck driver, lubrication technician, and bagger. (Tr. at 92, 853-54.) Dockery alleges that his disability began on October 25, 2002, due to anxiety, panic attacks, severe anger problems, bipolar disorder, and shoulder and back pain (Tr. at 86.)

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 not 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 Dockery meets the non-disability requirements for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI and was insured through the date of his decision. (Tr. at 20.) He further determined that Dockery has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of his disability. (Id. ) According to the ALJ, Dockery had the following "severe" impairments: bipolar disorder, intermittent and explosive disorder, and a mixed personality disorder with paranoid, anti-social, and passive-aggressive traits. (Id. ) The ALJ next determined that Dockery's impairments neither met nor were medically equal to any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. at 22.)

Because Dockery could not be considered "disabled" based solely on whether his impairments met or medically equaled those listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, the ALJ next assessed the effect of Dockery's alleged impairments on his RFC. The ALJ found that Dockery had an RFC that

[E]nabled him to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following exertional limitations: He can perform unskilled work. Due to deficiencies of concentration, persistence, and pace, he can have no more than occasional interaction with supervisors and co-workers and should have no interaction with the general public.

(Tr. at 24.) The ALJ determined that Dockery's RFC did not prevent Dockery from performing past relevant work as a lubrication technician. (Tr. at 26.) Consequently, the ALJ concluded that Dockery was not "under a disability" as defined in the ...


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