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Loyd v. Berryhill

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

September 8, 2017

DUSTIN LOYD, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), and 1383(c), plaintiff Dustin Loyd seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Mr. Loyd's claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. After careful review, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.[1]

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Mr. Loyd applied for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on May 8, 2012. (Doc. 8-6, pp. 2, 11). Mr. Loyd alleges that his disability began on August 27, 2011. (Doc. 8-6, pp. 2, 11). The Commissioner denied Mr. Loyd's application for benefits on September 4, 2012. (Doc. 8-5, pp. 1-4). Mr. Loyd requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Doc. 8-5, pp. 16-17). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on March 10, 2014. (Doc. 8-4, p. 36). On August 12, 2015, the Appeals Council declined Mr. Loyd's request for review (Doc. 8-3, pp. 2-7), making the Commissioner's decision final and a proper candidate for this Court's judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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 evaluating the administrative record, 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 substantial evidence supports the ALJ's factual findings, then the Court “must affirm even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings.” Costigan v. Comm'r of 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).

         III. SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S DECISION

         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. Loyd has engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 27, 2011, the alleged onset date. (Doc. 8-4, p. 41). Mr. Loyd held at least three jobs between August 27, 2011 and the date of the ALJ's decision. (Doc. 8-4, pp. 41-42). In 2011, Mr. Loyd worked as a van driver transporting chicken catchers for Francisco Poultry. (Doc. 8-4, p. 42; Doc. 8-6, p. 18.). Mr. Loyd worked as a laborer for Quality Custom Marble in 2012. (Doc. 8-3, p. 46; Doc. 8-4, pp. 41; Doc. 8-6, p. 20; Doc. 8-7, p. 17). Mr. Loyd then worked for Ivan Meeks. (Doc. 8-3, p. 46; Doc. 8-4, p. 41; Doc. 8-6, p. 30).[2] Although the ALJ found that Mr. Loyd has engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date, the ALJ explained that because “there is a 12-month period where [Mr. Loyd] did not have substantial gainful activity earnings reported or otherwise, the analysis continues due to [Mr. Loyd's claim for supplemental security income] and his date last insured of March of 2015.” (Doc. 8-4, p. 42).

         The ALJ determined that Mr. Loyd suffers from the following severe impairments: epilepsy, hypertension, right shoulder tendinopathy, enthesopathy of the knee, depression, anxiety, and a learning disability. (Doc. 8-4, p. 42). The ALJ also found that Mr. Loyd has the following non-severe impairments: gastroesophageal reflex disease, back pain, and a history of substance abuse. (Doc. 8-4, p. 42). The ALJ found that Mr. Loyd does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 8-4, pp. 42-46).

         Based on Mr. Loyd's impairments, the ALJ examined Mr. Loyd's residual functional capacity. The ALJ determined that Mr. Loyd has the RFC to perform light work. The ALJ explained that Mr. Loyd is:

precluded from climbing ladders, ropes[, ] or scaffolds and from exposure to hazardous moving machinery, commercial driving[, ] and unprotected heights. He can frequently climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch[, ] and crawl. He needs a temperature controlled environment in which he has no more than occasional exposure to extreme temperatures of cold or heat, wetness[, ] or humidity. The claimant is limited to work that requires no more than the understanding, remembering[, ] and carrying out of simple instructions. Said activity can be sustained for two hour periods and, with normal mid-morning, lunch, and mid-afternoon breaks, can be sustained over an eight-hour day. The claimant requires work with no more than occasional decision-making, infrequent changes in the work setting, and no more that occasional interaction with the public, coworkers[, ] or supervisors.

(Doc. 8-4, p. 46). Based on this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Loyd is unable to perform his past relevant work as a laborer or van driver. (Doc. 8-4, pp. 52-53). Relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ found that jobs exist in the national economy that Mr. Loyd can perform, including inspector/hand packager, garment sorter, and shipping and receiving wares. (Doc. 8-4, p. 53). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mr. Loyd has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 8-4, p. 54).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Mr. Loyd argues that he is entitled to relief from the ALJ's decision because the ALJ erred in finding that Mr. Loyd does not meet Listing 11.02 and 11.03 and because the Appeals Council failed to properly consider evidence that Mr. Loyd submitted after the ALJ's decision. Mr. Loyd also asks the Court to remand this action so that the ALJ may reconsider Mr. Loyd's subjective complaints of pain consistent with Social Security Ruling 16-3p. The Court examines each issue in turn.

         A. Substantial Evidence Supports the ALJ's Decision That Mr. Loyd Does ...


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