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Underwood v. Berryhill

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

March 7, 2018

THOMAS F. UNDERWOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

          L. Scott Coogler United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Thomas F. Underwood appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his applications for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).[1] Mr. Underwood 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. Underwood was fifty-three years of age age at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision. Mr. Underwood has a high school education, has completed one year of college, and has a commercial real estate license. (Tr. at 30, 138.) His past employment includes work as an engineering technician and a builder/commercial contractor. (Tr. at 52, 135.) He also listed being a commercial realtor from December 2004 until December 2009 as past work, stating that he worked 4-5 days per week for 6-8 hours per day. (Tr. at 151, 154.) Mr. Underwood claims that he became disabled on January 15, 2005, due to diabetes, neuropathy, treatment for non-recurring melanoma, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. at 476.) The last date that Plaintiff was insured for purposes of disability insurance was December 31, 2009.[2]

         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 impairments, or combination thereof, 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. Underwood last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2009. (Tr. at 478.) She further determined that Mr. Underwood did not engage in SGA from the alleged onset date of his disability to his date last insured. (Id.) According to the ALJ, through the date last insured, Plaintiff's diabetes mellitus and history of removal of malignant melanomas in March and April 2005 with no evidence of recurrence were “severe” impairments based on the requirements set forth in the regulations. (Id.) However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have any impairments (or combination thereof) that either met or medically equaled the severity of any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. at 478-79.)

         The ALJ determined that, through the date last insured, Mr. Underwood had the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR § 404.1567(b) with a sit/stand option, along with the following additional limitations: he could stand for 30 minutes at one time for a total of two hours during an eight hour workday; he could walk for 30 minutes at one time for a total of one hour during an eight hour workday; he could sit for 30 minutes at one time for a total of five hours during an eight hour workday; he could lift 30 pounds occasionally and 20 pounds frequently; he could carry ten pounds occasionally and five pounds frequently; he was restricted from climbing, balancing and crawling; he could perform activities that require stooping, kneeling, crouching, and pushing and pulling with the right arm and left leg; he could not work in extreme cold or heat; he could not work in high exposed places or be exposed to fumes, noxious odors, dusts, mists, gases, or poor ventilation; and occasionally, he could work around wetness/humidity and in proximity to moving mechanical parts. (Tr. at 479.)

         Using the testimony of a Vocational Expert, the ALJ determined that Mr. Underwood was able to perform his past relevant work as an engineering technician through the date last inured. (Tr. at 487.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Underwood “was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from . . . the alleged onset date, through . . . the date last inured.” (Tr. at 488.)

         II. Standard of Review

         This Court has a narrow role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act. 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 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; ...


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