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Ponds v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner

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

March 31, 2017

JOHNNIE PONDS Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, COMMISSIONER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          STACI G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Johnnie Ponds, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying him a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and supplemental security income ("SSI"). (Doc. 1). Mr. Ponds 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). For the reasons that follow, the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

         I. FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Mr. Ponds filed for DIB and SSI on November 27, 2012. (R. 25). His claims were initially denied on July 23, 2013. (Id.). The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denied Mr. Ponds' applications on May 29, 2014. (R. 22-39). The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, and Mr. Ponds timely appealed to this court. (R. 1-7); (Doc. 1).

         Mr. Ponds was fifty-two years old at the time the ALJ issued a decision denying his application for benefits. (R. 35, 208). Mr. Ponds has a Graduate Equivalency Diploma, and his past relevant work experience includes retail assistant manager, janitor, forklift operator, and hazardous material control technician. (R. 63-64). Mr. Ponds claims he is unable to work due to problems with his lungs, kidneys, vision, back, shoulders, and collarbone; emphysema; "free bleeders;" hearing loss; and depression. (R. 190).

         When evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of eighteen, the regulations prescribe a five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a determination of whether the claimant is performing substantial gainful activity ("SGA"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, he or she is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner proceeds to consider the combined effects of all the claimant's physical and mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These impairments must be severe and must meet durational requirements before a claimant will be found disabled. Id. The decision depends on the medical evidence in the record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971). If the claimant's impairments are not severe, the analysis stops. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Otherwise, the analysis continues to step three, at which the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments meet the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairments fall within this category, the claimant will be found disabled without further consideration. Id. If the impairments do not fall within the listings, the Commissioner determines the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).

         At step four the Commissioner determines whether the impairments prevent the claimant from returning to past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant is capable of performing past relevant work, he or she is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to the fifth step, at which the Commissioner considers the claimant's RFC, as well as the claimant's age, education, and past work experience, to determine whether he or she can perform other work. Id.; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do other work, he or she is not disabled. Id.

         Applying the sequential evaluation process here, the ALJ found Mr. Ponds had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset of disability. (R. 27). At step two, the ALJ found Mr. Ponds suffered from the severe impairments of emphysema with ongoing tobacco abuse and severe degenerative changes of the lumbar spine. (Id.). The ALJ also considered Mr. Ponds' impairments of correctable vision deficit, depression, and anxiety but determined these impairments were non-severe. (R. 28). At step three, the ALJ determined Mr. Ponds did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling any of the listed impairments. (R. 13, 30). Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined Mr. Ponds had the RFC to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c). But the ALJ also found the following as to Mr. Ponds' RFC:

[T]he claimant can rarely, up to one hour total over the course of an eight-hour workday, lift and carry up to 50 lbs. The claimant can frequently lift and carry up to 25 lbs. The claimant can sit at least two hours without limitation and a total of at least six hours over the course of an eight-hour workday. The claimant can stand at least two hours without interruption and a total of at least six hours over the course of an eight-hour workday. The claimant can walk at least 45 minutes without interruption and a total of at least five hours over the course of an eight-hour workday. The claimant can frequently use his upper extremities for reaching overhead, pushing, and pulling. The claimant is not otherwise limited in the use of his upper extremities. The claimant can frequently use his lower extremities for the operation of foot controls. The claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes, poles, or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. The claimant can occasionally work in humidity, wetness, and extreme temperatures. The claimant can occasionally work in dusts, gases, odors, and fumes. The claimant cannot work in poorly ventilated areas. The claimant cannot work at unprotected heights. The claimant can occasionally work with operating hazardous machinery. The claimant can occasionally work while subject to vibration. The claimant can frequently operate motorized vehicles.

(Id.).

         In determining the RFC, the ALJ considered all Mr. Ponds' symptoms and the extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence. (Id.). Regarding opinion evidence, the ALJ assigned significant weight to the opinion of Dr. Judy Travis insofar as she placed no limitations on Mr. Ponds, and she appeared to perform a thorough examination. (R. 32). However, the ALJ assigned no weight to Dr. Travis' diagnosis of depression/anxiety. (Id.).

         The ALJ assigned little weight to the opinion of Dr. Perry Timberlake because, although Dr. Timberlake is a treating physician, the record shows only very limited meetings with Mr. Ponds. (R. 33). Only one meeting between Mr. Ponds and Dr. Timberlake appears to have occurred before Dr. Timberlake issued his opinion, and that meeting only lasted fifteen minutes. (R. 32). Further, Dr. Timberlake's findings and opinion were inconsistent with the presentation of the claimant and the claimant's activity levels noted in his function report. (R. 33).

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Mr. Ponds' impairments and the limitations arising from them do not preclude him from performing all work activity. (Id.). The ALJ concluded Mr. Ponds could return to his past relevant work in retail, as well as other jobs in the economy which he could perform. (R. 34). In reaching this determination, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert. (R. 34-35). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded his findings by stating Mr. Ponds "has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 29, 2010, through the date of this decision." (R. 35).

         II. ...


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