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Nappier v. Berryhill

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

May 31, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Roger Nappier seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Mr. Nappier's claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. After careful review, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.[1]


         Mr. Nappier applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on February 7, 2013. (Doc. 6-6, pp. 2-3; Doc. 6-7, p. 2). Mr. Nappier alleges that his disability began on June 1, 2011. (Doc. 6-4, p. 3). The Commissioner initially denied Mr. Nappier's claims on July 9, 2013. (Doc. 6-5. pp. 2-6). Mr. Nappier requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 6-3, p. 34; Doc. 6-5, p. 9). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 4, 2014. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 8-22). On May 25, 2016, the Appeals Council declined Mr. Nappier's request for review (Doc. 6-3, pp. 2-4), making the Commissioner's decision final and a proper candidate for this Court's judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         The scope of review in this matter is limited. “When, as in this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council denies review, ” the Court “review[s] the ALJ's ‘factual findings with deference' and [his] ‘legal conclusions with close scrutiny.'” Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         The Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's factual findings. “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). In making this evaluation, the Court may not “decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, ” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citation omitted). If the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence, then the Court “must affirm even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 603 Fed.Appx. 783, 786 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Crawford, 363 F.3d at 1158).

         With respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).


         To determine whether a claimant has proven that he is disabled, an ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The ALJ considers:

(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment, whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience.

Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.

         In this case, the ALJ found that Mr. Nappier “has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2011, the alleged onset date.” (Doc. 6-3, p. 13). The ALJ determined that Mr. Nappier suffers from the “following severe impairments: multilevel mild degenerative dis[c] disease of the thoracic spine, mild multilevel thecal sac stenosis of the thoracic spine, diabetes mellitus with retinopathy, and ophthalmological impairments of superior ischemic HRVO right eye with macular edema, chronic venous insufficiency OU possibly with early macular edema OS on OCT, diabetes mellitus with mild NPDR OU with macular edema, steroid responder with good IOP, cataracts OU, and central retinal vein occlusion.” (Doc. 6-3, p. 13). The ALJ determined that Mr. Nappier has the following non-severe impairments: moderate carpal tunnel syndrome on the left, dyslipidemia, a history of kidney stones, and depression. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 13-14). Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Nappier “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of any of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” (Doc. 6-3, p. 15).

         In light of Mr. Nappier's impairments, the ALJ evaluated Mr. Nappier's residual functional capacity or RFC. The ALJ determined that Mr. Nappier has the RFC to perform:

medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except he is able to frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs but may never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He is able to work in an environment that does not require work at unprotected heights or with hazardous machinery. The claimant is able to determine differences in size, shape, and color of objects; is able to avoid ordinary hazards; and is able to perform tasks that do not require more than occasional depth perception.

(Doc. 6-3, p. 16). Based on this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Nappier is not able to perform his past relevant work as a finish carpenter and cabinet maker. (Doc. 6-3, p. 21). Relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ found that jobs exist in the national economy that Mr. Nappier can perform, including laundry worker, cleaner, and scrap sorter. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 21-22). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mr. Nappier has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 22).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Mr. Nappier argues that he is entitled to relief from the ALJ's decision because the ALJ did not properly evaluate his subjective testimony consistent with the Eleventh Circuit Pain Standard and because the ALJ did not give adequate weight to the opinion of treating physician Dr. Vlad Prelipcean. The Court examines each issue in turn.


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