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Gerbige v. Colvin

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

March 25, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


R. DAVID PROCTOR, District Judge.

Ronald Reece Gerbige ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to Sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), seeking review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his/her claims for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and/or Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). See also, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). Based on the court's review of the record and the briefs submitted by the parties, the court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is due to be affirmed.

I. Proceedings Below

On December 14, 2010, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental insurance benefits (R. 56), alleging that his disability began on June 6, 2010. (R. 12). Both of Plaintiff's claims were initially denied by the Social Security Administration on April 13, 2011. (54-55). On November 29, 2012, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. 7-8). This request was granted, and Plaintiff received a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Gloria W. Green on August 3, 2012. (R. 24). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined within the Act from June 6, 2010 through the date of the decision, November 13, 2012. (R. 9-23). Following the hearing, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (R. 1-4), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner, and therefore a proper subject of this court's appellate review.

II. Statement of Facts

Plaintiff was fifty years old at the time of the alleged disability onset date, and fifty-three years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 18). He has completed his GED and has past work experience as a long-haul truck driver. (R. 33). Plaintiff alleges he has been a truck driver since 1980, making it, primarily, the only job he has ever performed. ( Id. ). Plaintiff also claims his inability to perform work is a result of diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, obesity, and mild degenerative disk disease of the lumbar spine. (R. 14).

According to Plaintiff, the problems with his back began on January 8, 2010, as a result of an injury he sustained while in his truck. (R. 34). Plaintiff alleges he was parked in a closed rest area and asleep in his truck when another truck driver ran into him. (R. 33-34). From January 8, 2010 (the date of the wreck), until the alleged disability onset date, Plaintiff claims he was only able to work part-time as a truck driver. (R. 37). That is, Plaintiff testified that as of June 6, 2010, he was unable to continue working as a truck driver because of his back pain. (R. 37).

Plaintiff testified that, as a result of his injury and degenerative disk disease, he cannot sit very long or walk more than ten to fifteen minutes at a time. (R. 15). He also testified that he can only lift between ten and twenty pounds, and occasionally has problems getting up from a seated position. (R. 44). As a result of his medical condition, Plaintiff claims his daily activities are limited. (R. 45-46). He lives with his mother and alleges he cannot cook or clean (R. 41); however, he claims he is able to make sandwiches and drive to the store. (R. 43).

Plaintiff had an MRI in the Fall of 2010 and takes an anti-inflammatory medication and muscle relaxers for his back pain ( id. ); however, he does not receive treatment for his back or take pain medication, not even over-the-counter pain medication. (R. 16). Plaintiff's treating physician recommended physical therapy, but Plaintiff never followed through with that recommendation. (R. 258-91). When Plaintiff sought additional treatment in April 2011, he repeatedly indicated that he was not in pain. (R. 260-78).

Additionally, Plaintiff is obese. (R. 17). Plaintiff testified that he was diagnosed with diabetes in either 2001 or 2002. (R. 172-79). He takes medication for his diabetes, including Janumet, Glucophage, and Actos (R. 38, 260) and takes blood pressure medication due to hypertension. (R. 47). Plaintiff alleges that when he is not taking his medication, he can suffer from dizziness and blurred vision, but that he rarely has these problems. (R. 16, 38). His treating physicians at Northeast Alabama Health Services repeatedly instructed Plaintiff to increase his exercise, diet, and lose weight (R. 260-78); however, Plaintiff testified he was unable to exercise because of his back pain. (R. 38). His treating physicians "have never noted his weight significantly limits him or that it has impacted his musculoskeletal system or general health as to cause him to be diagnosed with impairments secondary to or in combination with obesity." (R. 17).

A Vocational Expert ("VE") testified at the hearing that Plaintiff's past work experience as a tractor trailer driver would be classified by the Department of Labor as medium work. (R. 49). The VE also testified that Plaintiff's past work experience is considered semi-skilled and noted that it is described in the record as sedentary work. ( Id. ). The VE also indicated that Plaintiff has no transferrable skills from his past work experience. (R. 50).

III. 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 activity 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. § 404.1572(b). If the ALJ finds that the claimant engages in substantial gainful activity, then the claimant cannot claim disability. 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 of an impairment 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 must first determine the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), which refers to the claimant's ability to work despite her 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 the claimant 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, ...

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