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McGee v. Berryhill

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

February 20, 2018

DELBERT LARAY MCGHEE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

          L. Scott Coogler United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         The plaintiff, Delbert Laray McGhee, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Mr. McGhee 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. McGhee was 49 years old at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision, and he has a high school education. (Tr. at 24, 142.) His past work experiences include employment as a truck driver, route sales driver, assembler, laborer, and tank filler. (Tr. at 24, 68, 189, 194.) Mr. McGhee claims that he became disabled on July 24, 2013, due to complications from surgeries to his left ankle arising from a previous injury in 1995, when he “fell approximately 25 feet and suffered an open fracture of the distal left lower leg.” (Tr. at 18.)

         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. McGhee meets the nondisability requirements for a period of disability and DIB and was insured through the date of his decision. (Tr. at 15.) He further determined that Mr. McGhee has not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of his disability. (Id.) According to the ALJ, Plaintiff's status post left ankle, subtalar fusion and hardware removal with bone grafting are considered “severe” based on the requirements set forth in the regulations. (Id.) 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. McGhee's allegations to be totally credible, and he determined that he has the following RFC: sedentary exertional work with the following limitations: he is never able to use left foot controls; can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never climb ladders or scaffolds; can frequently balance and stoop but never crouch, kneel or crawl; may never be exposed to unprotected heights, dangerous machinery, dangerous tools, hazardous processes or operate commercial motor vehicles; can tolerate occasional exposure to extreme cold and vibration; and in addition to normal workday breaks, he would be off-task 5% of an 8-hour workday (non-consecutive minutes). (Tr. at 16.)

         According to the ALJ, Mr. McGhee is unable to perform any of his past relevant work, he is a “younger individual aged 45-49, ” and he has a “high school education” and is able to communicate in English, as those terms are defined by the regulations. (Tr. at 24.) Considering Mr. McGhee's age, education, work experience, and RFC, and using the testimony of a Vocational Expert, the ALJ found that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Mr. McGhee is capable of performing, such as customer service representative, information clerk, and surveillance system monitor. (Tr. at 25.) The ALJ concluded his findings by stating that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from July 24, 2013 through the date of his decision. (Id.)

         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 Fed.Appx. 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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