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Green v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

April 24, 2015

ZENO GREEN III, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


KATHERINE P. NELSON, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Zeno Green III brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by, and this case has been ordered referred to, the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings in this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). See Docs. 22 and 24.

Upon consideration of the administrative record ("R.") (Doc. 14), Plaintiff's Brief (Doc. 17), the Commissioner's Brief (Doc. 18), and the arguments presented at the hearing held November 4, 2014 ( cf. Docs. 20-22), the Court has determined that the Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff's benefits should be AFFIRMED.[1]

I. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed applications for DIB in August 2008 and for DIB and SSI in March 2011 ( see R. 321-327, 338-345), alleging a disability onset date of July 7, 2008. See R. 321, 338, 340. His applications were initially denied. See R. 79-81, 104-107. Hearings were conducted before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on December 21, 2009 ( see R. 58-78) and, following remand from the Appeals Council ( see R. 108-112), on November 19, 2012. See R. 28-57. On January 11, 2013, the ALJ issued the decision, now before this Court, finding Plaintiff not disabled. R. 10-27. The Appeals Council issued a decision declining to review the ALJ's determination on January 18, 2014. See R. 1-4. The Commissioner's decision being final for purposes of judicial review ( see 20 C.F.R. § 404.981), a complaint was filed in this Court on March 18, 2014. See Doc. 1.

II. Factual Background

Mr. Green, the Plaintiff in this case, is a resident of Bay Minette, Alabama, born January 15, 1981. Doc. 1 at 1; R at 321. He was 31 at the time of the remand hearing before the ALJ. Doc. 17-1 at 1. He has completed high school but does not have any further education or vocational training. R. at 63. His past work experience includes positions as a store laborer, a press punch operator, and a concrete pipe of maker. R. at 20, 48. However, he has not worked since before the alleged onset date of July 2008. R. at 15. Mr. Green suffers from significant bone deformity, referred to as pes planovargus or flat-footedness, in both feet. R. at 502. He had serious corrective surgery involving bones grafts, referred to as triple arthrodesis, on his right foot in September 2008. Id. His physician has recommended that he have the same surgery on the left foot. R. at 503. Mr. Green utilizes lace-up ankle braces on both feet and a cane. Id.

III. Standard of Review and Claims on Appeal

In all Social Security cases, a plaintiff (sometimes referred to as a claimant) bears the burden of proving that he or she is unable to perform his or her previous work. Jones v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1001, 1005 (11th Cir. 1986). In evaluating whether that burden has been met, and thus a claimant has proven that he or she is disabled, the examiner (most often an ALJ) must consider the following four factors: (1) objective medical facts and clinical findings; (2) diagnoses of examining physicians; (3) evidence of pain; and (4) the plaintiff's age, education, and work history ( see id ); and, in turn,

uses a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether the claimant is disabled, which considers: (1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) if so, whether the severe impairment meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of Impairments in the regulations; (4) if not, whether the claimant has the [residual functional capacity, or] RFC[, ] to perform her past relevant work; and (5) if not, whether, in light of the claimant's RFC, age, education and work experience, there are other jobs the claimant can perform.

Watkins v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 457 Fed.Appx. 868, 870 (11th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), (c)-(f), 416.920(a)(4), (c)-(f); Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004)).

If a plaintiff proves that he or she cannot do his or her past relevant work, it then becomes the Commissioner's burden to prove that the plaintiff is capable-given his or her age, education, and work history-of engaging in another kind of substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. Id.; Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999); Sryock v. Heckler, 764 F.2d 834, 836 (11th Cir. 1985). Finally, but importantly, although "the [plaintiff] bears the burden of demonstrating the inability to return to [his or] her past relevant work, the Commissioner of Social Security has an obligation to develop a full and fair record." Shnorr v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 578, 581 (11th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted).

The task for this Court is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision to deny a plaintiff benefits is supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is defined as more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance, and means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) ( citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). "In determining whether substantial evidence exists, [a court] must view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the [Commissioner's] decision." Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). Courts are precluded, however, from "deciding the facts anew or re-weighing the evidence." Davison v. Astrue, 370 Fed.App'x 995, 996 (11th Cir. Apr. 1, 2010) (per curiam) (citing Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005)). "Even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings, [a court] must affirm if the decision reached is supported by substantial evidence." Id. (citing Crawford v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2004)) (emphasis added).

On appeal to this Court, Plaintiff asserts three reasons why the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits is in error ( i.e., not ...

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