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Harper v. Berryhill

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

October 8, 2017

WILLIAM HARPER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting 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 William Harper seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied Mr. Harper's claims 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 AND BACKGROUND

         Mr. Harper applied for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on July 26, 2012. (Doc. 9-4, pp. 3-4; Doc. 9-7, pp. 2, 4). Mr. Harper alleges that his disability began on August 10, 2010. (Doc. 9-3, p. 48).[2] The Commissioner initially denied Mr. Harper's claims on October 25, 2012. (Doc. 9-5, pp. 8-17). Mr. Harper requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Doc. 9-5, pp. 24-25). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on October 20, 2014. (Doc. 9-3, pp. 28-38). On April 12, 2016, the Appeals Council declined Mr. Harper's request for review (Doc. 9-3, p. 2), making the ALJ'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 substantial evidence in the record supports 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, 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 will reverse the ALJ's decision, unless the error is harmless. 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. Harper has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 10, 2010, the alleged onset date. (Doc. 9-3, p. 30). The ALJ determined that Mr. Harper suffers from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease and obesity. (Doc. 9-3, p. 30). Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Harper does not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 9-3, p. 31).

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

sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except the claimant can lift and carry ten (10) pounds occasionally and less than ten (10) pounds frequently; sit for six (6) hours in an eight-hour (8-hour) workday; stand and walk for two (2) hours in an eight-hour (8-hour) workday; never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl; never reach overhead; should avoid all exposure to workplace hazards such as dangerous machinery and unprotected heights; avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes; avoid prolonged or repetitive rotation, hyperextension, and flexion of the neck; and can maintain attention and concentration for two-hour (2-hour) periods at a time, notwithstanding pain.

(Doc. 9-3, p. 31).

         Based on this RFC evaluation, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Harper is not able to perform his past relevant work. (Doc. 9-3, p. 36). Relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ found that jobs exist in the national economy that Mr. Harper can perform, including dowel inspector, cuff folder, and button reclaimer. (Doc. 9-3, p. 37). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mr. Harper is not disabled within the ...


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