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Mitchell v. Berryhill

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

March 8, 2018

MICKEY LYNN MITCHELL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

          L. Scott Coogler United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         The plaintiff, Mickey Lynn Mitchell, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his applications for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), a period of disability, and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Mr. Mitchell 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. Mitchell was 47 years old at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision, and he has an eleventh grade education. (Tr. at 65.) His past work experiences include employment as a carpenter and a pest exterminator. (Tr. at 65-66, 209.) Mr. Mitchell claims that he became disabled on May 19, 2013, due to arthritis, diabetes, neuropathy, high blood pressure, and shoulder pain. (Tr. at 208.) May 19, 2013, is the day after the date that the Commissioner issued a final decision determining that Mr. Mitchell was not disabled on an earlier application.

         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. Mitchell was insured through September 30, 2014. (Tr. at 41.) He further determined that Mr. Mitchell has not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset of his disability. (Id.) According to the ALJ, Plaintiff's diabetes with neuropathy, sleep apnea, hypertension, history of shoulder injury, and degenerative disc disease are considered “severe” based on the requirements set forth in the regulations. (Tr. at 42.) 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. (Tr. at 43.) Further, he determined that Mr. Mitchell has the following RFC: performance of light, unskilled work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b); he could have frequent interaction with co-workers, supervisors, and the general public; he cannot do any climbing of ropes, ladders or scaffolds; he cannot work at unprotected heights or with hazardous machinery; he cannot do more than occasional stooping, crouching, or crawling; he cannot do more than occasional overhead reaching bilaterally; and he cannot be exposed to dust, fumes, or other respiratory irritants. (Tr. at 44.)

         According to the ALJ, Mr. Mitchell is unable to perform any of his past relevant work, he is a “younger individual age 18-49, ” he has a “limited education, ” and he is able to communicate in English, as those terms are defined by the regulations. (Tr. at 51.) The ALJ then enlisted a Vocational Expert and used Medical-Vocational Rule 202.18 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 general office clerk, assembler, and packer. (Tr. at 52.) The ALJ concluded his findings by stating that Plaintiff “has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from May 19, 2013, through the date of this 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 F. App'x 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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