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Marceau v. Berryhill

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

September 7, 2017

ALISON MARCEAU, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

          L. SCOTT COOGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         The plaintiff, Alison Marceau, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), who issued a partially favorable decision on her applications for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), a period of disability, and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Ms. Marceau timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies[1] and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

         Ms. Marceau was thirty-three years old at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision, and she has a high school education. (Tr. at 159, 255.) Her past work experiences include employment as a billing clerk, a data entry clerk, a call receiver, and a waitress. (Tr. at 45.) Ms. Marceau claims that she became disabled on April 5, 2008, due to idiopathic peripheral neuropathy, headaches/migraines, generalized anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), depression, and asthma. (Tr. at 33, 35-36.).

         The Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled and thus eligible for DIB or SSI. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The evaluator will follow the steps in order until making a finding of either disabled or not disabled; if no finding is made, the analysis will proceed to the next step. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The first step requires the evaluator to determine whether the plaintiff is engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”). See Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the plaintiff is not engaged in SGA, the evaluator moves on to the next step.

         The second step requires the evaluator to consider the combined severity of the plaintiff's medically determinable physical and mental impairments. See Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An individual impairment or combination of impairments that is not classified as “severe” and does not satisfy the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509 and 416.909 will result in a finding of not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). The decision depends on the medical evidence contained in the record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971) (concluding that “substantial medical evidence in the record” adequately supported the finding that plaintiff was not disabled).

         Similarly, the third step requires the evaluator to consider whether the plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments meets or is medically equal to the criteria of impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the criteria of a listed impairment and the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509 and 416.909 are satisfied, the evaluator will make a finding of disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).

         If the plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, the evaluator must determine the plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) before proceeding to the fourth step. See Id. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). The fourth step requires the evaluator to determine whether the plaintiff has the RFC to perform the requirements of his past relevant work. See Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does not prevent him from performing his past relevant work, the evaluator will make a finding of not disabled. See id.

         The fifth and final step requires the evaluator to consider the plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and work experience in order to determine whether the plaintiff can make an adjustment to other work. See Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the plaintiff can perform other work, the evaluator will find him not disabled. Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the plaintiff cannot perform other work, the evaluator will find him disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g), 416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.920(g).

         Applying the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Ms. Marceau last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2009. (Tr. at 35.)[2] He further determined that Ms. Marceau has not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of her disability, April 5, 2008. (Tr. at 35.) According to the ALJ, prior to December 19, 2013, Plaintiff did not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments. (Tr. at 36.) However, he determined that since December 19, 2013, Plaintiff has had the following severe impairments: ADHD, major depressive disorder, social phobia, somatoform traits, and cluster B personality features. (Tr. at 42.) However, he found that these impairment neither met nor medically equaled the severity of any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.) With regard to Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ found that since December 19, 2013, she could perform light work with the following additional limitations: she can sit up to six hours in an eight hour day but no more than two hours at a time, stand up to four hours in an eight hour day but no more than one hour at a time, and walk up to three hours in an eight hour day but no more than two hours at a time; she can continuously reach, handle, push, pull, feel, finger, use foot controls, or climb ramps or stairs; she can frequently climb ladders or scaffolds, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, or operate motor vehicles; she can occasionally perform in environments of humidity, wetness, or vibration, but she should not perform in environments of temperature extremes, both hot and cold; in addition to normal workday breaks, she will need to have breaks that allow her to move away from the workstation for more than five minutes every two hours during the regular workday; she will be absent more than three days per month, and she will be off task more than twenty percent of the workday. (Tr. at 44.)

         According to the ALJ, Ms. Marceau is a “younger individual, ” and she has “at least a high school education, ” as those terms are defined by the regulations. (Tr. at 45.) He determined that Plaintiff has “no transferable skills from any past relevant work and/or transferability of skills is not an issue in this case.” (Id.) The ALJ enlisted a vocational expert (“VE”) in conjunction with the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2 to use as a framework for finding that since December 19, 2013, there are no jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Tr. at 45.) The ALJ concluded his findings by stating that while Plaintiff was not under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act at any time through June 30, 2009, the date last insured, Plaintiff became “disabled on December 19, 2013, and has continued to be disabled through the date of this decision.” (Tr. at 46.)

         II. Standard of Review

         This 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)). This 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, this 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 this Court finds that the proof preponderates ...


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