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Dejarnette v. Berryhill

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

April 6, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


         Claimant, Rose Mary DeJarnett, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner, affirming the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and thereby denying her claim for a period of disability, disability insurance, and supplemental security income benefits.

         The court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of review is limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the Commissioner, and whether correct legal standards were applied. See Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988); Tieniber v. Heckler, 120 F.2d 1251, 1253 (11th Cir. 1983).

         Claimant contends that the Commissioner's decision is neither supported by substantial evidence nor in accordance with applicable legal standards. Specifically, claimant asserts that the ALJ's finding that claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of light work was not supported by substantial evidence. Upon review of the record, the court concludes that claimant's contention lacks merit, and that the Commissioner's ruling is due to be affirmed.

         The ALJ found that, despite suffering from the severe impairments of cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease, right knee osteoarthritis, and hypertension, claimant retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work, with the following additional limitations:

claimant can frequently climb ramps or stairs and can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, or crouch. She is not able to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and she is not able to crawl. She is not able to perform around work hazards or in concentrated exposure to extreme hot or cold temperatures, wetness, vibrations, or in environments of fumes, odors, dust, gases, poor ventilation, etc.[1]

         Claimant asserts that finding was not supported by substantial evidence, and that the ALJ should instead have found her capable of performing only sedentary work.

         Social Security regulations define sedentary work as follows:

Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met.

20 C.F.R. §404.1567(a). Light work is defined as follows:

Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or standing, or when it involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls. To be considered capable of performing a full or wide range of light work, you must have the ability to do substantially all of these activities. If someone can do light work, we determine that he or she can also do sedentary work, unless there are additional limiting factors such as loss of fine dexterity or inability to sit for long periods of time.

20 C.F.R. §404.1567(b).

         The distinction between light work and sedentary work is important here because claimant, who was fifty years old on her alleged onset date, is classified as an individual "closely approaching advanced age" for purposes of the Social Security Administration's Medical-Vocational Guidelines ("Grids"). Medical-Vocational Rule 201.10 mandates a finding of "not disabled" for an individual closely approaching advanced age who, like claimant, has a limited or less education and no transferable vocational skills, and who is limited to sedentary work. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2, Rule 201.10. In other words, if claimant is limited to sedentary work, she is disabled under the Grids. If she is only limited to light work, she is not disabled.

         Claimant asserts that she should have been limited to performing, at most, sedentary work, due to her lower back, neck, and knee pain. There is no dispute that claimant did, indeed, suffer from and receive treatment for pain in those areas. Even so, it is not the mere existence of a medical condition like pain that determines disability. Instead, the relevant consideration is the effect of claimant's impairment, or combination of impairments, on her ability to perform substantial gainful work activities. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a) (defining a disability as "the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months"). See also Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 (1987) ("The [Social Security] Act 'defines "disability" in terms of the effect a physical or mental impairment has on a person's ability to function in the workplace.'") (quoting Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 459-60(1983)).

         The record does not support any functional limitations greater than those imposed by the ALJ. X-rays taken on January 6, 2011 revealed only mild degenerative changes in claimant's lumbar spine, minimal degenerative disc disease in her ...

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