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Duncan v. Berryhill

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

September 7, 2017

JOSEPH MATTHEW DUNCAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

          L. SCOTT COOGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         The plaintiff, Joseph M. Duncan, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Mr. Duncan 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).

         Mr. Duncan was thirty-nine years old at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision, and he has a high school education, as well as training to be a certified nurse's aide. (Tr. at 341.) His past work experiences include employment as a forklift operator, warehouse maintenance worker, fast food worker, and furniture-frame builder. (Id.) Mr. Duncan claims that he became disabled on April 24, 2011, due to leg, hip, knee, lower back and breast pain, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. at 106.)

         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 an 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 Mr. Duncan meets the nondisability requirements for a period of disability and DIB and was insured through the date of his decision. (Tr. at 108.) He further determined that Mr. Duncan has not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of his disability. (Id.) According to the ALJ, Plaintiff's fracture of the distal left radius, status post open reduction and internal fixation, and anxiety disorder are considered “severe” based on the requirements set forth in the regulations. (Tr. at 109.) However, he found that these impairments neither meet nor medically equal any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.) The ALJ did not find Mr. Duncan's allegations to be totally credible, and he determined that he has the following RFC:

to perform less than a full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). He can occasionally lift twenty pounds and frequently lift ten pounds; can occasionally push, pull, grip, and perform fine fingering manipulations with his left hand; has no limitations on his right upper extremity or his ability to stand, walk, or sit; should not crawl or climb; and is restricted to unskilled work with occasional personal interaction.

(Tr. at 111-12.)

         According to the ALJ, Mr. Duncan is unable to perform any of his past relevant work and he is a “younger individual, ” as those terms are defined by the regulations. (Tr. at 116.) He determined that “transferability of skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is ‘not disabled, ' whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills.” (Id.) Because Plaintiff cannot perform the full range of light work, the ALJ enlisted a vocational expert (“VE”) and used Medical-Vocation Rule 201.25 as a guideline for finding that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that he is capable of performing, such as ticket taker, laundry sorter, and laundry folder. (Tr. at 117.) The ALJ concluded his findings by stating that Plaintiff “has not been under a ‘disability, ' as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 1, 2022, through the date of this decision.” (Id.)

         II. ...


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