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Roberts v. Social Security Administration

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

September 7, 2017

ANTHONY ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, COMMISSIONER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STACI G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Anthony Roberts, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1). Mr. Roberts 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). The parties have consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 9). For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.

         I. FACTS, FRAMEWORK, AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Mr. Roberts applied for DIB and SSI benefits on July 17, 2012. (R. 21). These claims were initially denied on November 19, 2012. (Id.). After holding a hearing on February 26, 2014, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Mr. Roberts' claims on June 19, 2014. (Id.; R. 30). Mr. Roberts was thirty years old at the time of the ALJ's decision and has a GED. (R. 38-39). His past work experience includes employment as a server in a restaurant, an electrician helper, and a construction worker. (R. 39, 50-52, 148, 162). Mr. Roberts claims he became disabled on August 6, 2009. (R. 21).

         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, the ALJ found Mr. Roberts had not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of his disability. (R. 23). At step two, the ALJ found Mr. Roberts suffered from the following severe impairments: right eye blindness, left shoulder osteoarthritis, partial tear of left rotator cuff, left shoulder impingement, and cellulitis. (R. 24).

         At step three, the ALJ found Mr. Roberts did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling any of the listed impairments. (R. 25). Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined Mr. Roberts had the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) with the following limitations: (1) no climbing of ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; (2) no work at unprotected heights or with hazardous machinery; (3) lifting with the left, non-dominant arm limited to no more than ten pounds; (4) occasional overhead reaching bilaterally; (5) work not requiring binocular vision with long term blindness in one eye; and (6) no concentrated exposure to extreme heat or cold. (R. 26).

         At step four, the ALJ determined Mr. Roberts was unable to perform any of his past relevant work. (R. 28). Because Mr. Roberts' RFC did not allow for the full range of sedentary work, the ALJ took testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”). The ALJ found Mr. Roberts could perform jobs such as surveillance system monitor, telephone quote clerk, and assembler. (R. 29). The ALJ concluded his decision by finding Mr. Roberts was not disabled under 20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g). (Id.).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of its review is limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the Commissioner, and (2) whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Stone v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 544 F. App'x 839, 841 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004)). A court gives deference to the factual findings of the Commissioner, provided those findings are supported by substantial evidence, but applies close scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996).

         Nonetheless, a court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004)). “The substantial evidence standard permits administrative decision makers to act with considerable latitude, and ‘the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence.'” Parker v. Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177, 1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J., dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Fed. Mar. Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if a court finds that the proof preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, it must affirm if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400 (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).

         However, no decision is automatic, for “despite th[e] deferential standard [for review of claims], it is imperative that th[is] Court scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached.” Bridges v. Bowen, 815 F.2d 622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987) (citing Arnold v. Heckler, 732 F.2d 881, 883 (11th Cir. 1984)). Moreover, failure to apply the ...


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