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Brady v. Berryhill

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

May 17, 2018

DANIEL BRADY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOHN E. OTT, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Daniel Brady brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). (Doc. 1).[1] The case has been assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to this court's general order of reference. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court for disposition of the matter. (See Doc. 18). See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(a). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff protectively filed his current DIB application on November 14, 2013, alleging he became disabled on June 1, 2001. (R. 17). He amended his disability onset date to April 1, 2014, at his administrative hearing. (R. 42). The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) issued an unfavorable decision on January 29, 2016. (R. 17-29). Plaintiff submitted his appeal to the Appeals Council. Upon consideration, the Appeals Council found no reason to review the ALJ's decision. (R. 1). The matter is now properly before this court.

         II. FACTS

         Plaintiff was 61 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. He has a high school education with three years of college. He also has received a diploma for mechanical, electrical, and architectural drafting training. (R. 44-45). Plaintiff initially alleged disability due to depression, anxiety, arthritis, post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetes, mini strokes, and low testosterone. (R. 218).

         Following a hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following medically determinable impairments: obesity; mild multilevel degenerative disc and facet changes in the lumbar spine; mid-foot arthritis in both feet; arthritis in the right (non-dominant) shoulder; posttraumatic arthritis in the right knee; type II diabetes mellitus; hypertension; status-post rotator cuff repair of the left shoulder (2000); kidney stones; controlled gastroesophageal reflux disease; a history of headache disorder; cataracts; and macular degeneration. (R. 19). He also found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the listed impairments. See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. (R. 22). He further found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of medium work. (R. 22-28). Next, he determined Plaintiff could perform his past work as a maintenance mechanic and grocery clerk. (R. 28, 66). Accordingly, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act. (R. 29).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of the court is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The court must “scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. It is “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id.

         The court must uphold factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal conclusions de novo because no presumption of validity attaches to the ALJ's determination of the proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision. See Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         IV. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

         To qualify for DIB under the Social Security Act, a claimant must show the inability to engage in “any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). A physical or mental impairment is “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3). The claimant has the burden of producing evidence to support his disability claim. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(a), 404.1515.

         Determination of disability under the Social Security Act requires a five step analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4). Specifically, the Commissioner must determine in sequence:

whether the claimant: (1) is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment; (3) has such an impairment that meets or equals a Listing and meets the duration requirements; (4) can perform his past relevant work, in light of his residual functional capacity; and (5) can make an adjustment to other work, in light of his residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.

Evans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 551 Fed.Appx. 521, 524 (11th Cir. 2014)[2] (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)). The plaintiff bears the burden of proving that he was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005). The applicable “regulations place a very heavy burden on the claimant to demonstrate both a qualifying disability and an inability to perform past relevant work.” Id.

         V. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff argues five grounds of error: First, the ALJ incorrectly found that Plaintiff can perform his past work; Second, the ALJ failed to afford adequate weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating urologist; Third, the ALJ failed to state adequate reasons for finding Plaintiff not credible; Fourth, the ALJ failed to develop the record; and Fifth, the ALJ failed to consider all of Plaintiff's severe impairments. (Doc. 11 at 1-2). Each argument will be addressed below.

         A. Past Relevant Work

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to perform an analysis of his past work and make specific findings regarding the physical and mental demands of that work. (Doc. 11 at 16-19). The Commissioner responds that the ALJ adequately considered Plaintiff's prior work history and substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work. (Doc. 15 at 5-7). She also argues that Plaintiff has not identified any demands of his prior positions that are inconsistent with his RFC. (Id.)

         The record shows that the ALJ relied on testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”) concerning Plaintiff's past work experience. (R. 65-70). The VE testified that Plaintiff's past, relevant work as a maintenance mechanic was performed at a medium, skilled level. The VE identified the position in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) § 638.281-014. (R. 66). See 1991 WL 685519.[3] The VE also testified that Plaintiff's past, relevant work as a grocery clerk was performed at a medium, semi-skilled level. He again identified the position in the DOT at § 290.477-018. (R. 66). See 1991 WL 672555.[4] The VE further testified that a hypothetical individual with Plaintiff's vocational profile and a limitation to medium work could perform both jobs comprising his past, relevant work. (R. 67-68).

         This issue was previously raised by Plaintiff's counsel in Holder v. Berryhill, 2018 WL 1857061 (N.D. Ala. Apr. 18, 2018). United States District Judge Virginia E. Hopkins stated:

Holder argues that Nelms v. Bowen and Schnorr v. Bowen control.[5]... (citing Nelms v. Bowen, 803 F.2d 1164, 1165 (11th Cir. 1986); Schnorr v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 578, 581 (11th Cir. 1987)). Nelms stands for the idea that “[i]n the absence of evidence of the physical requirements and demands of appellant's work the ALJ could not properly determine that she retained the residual functional capacity to perform it.” Nelms, 803 F.2d at 1165. Similarly, Schnorr stands for the idea that “[w]here there is no evidence of the physical requirements and demands of the claimant's past work and no detailed description of the required duties was solicited or proffered, the Secretary cannot properly determine whether the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform his past relevant work.” Schnorr, 816 F.2d at 581.
The Commissioner cites to the Eleventh Circuit in Waldrop.... (citing Waldrop v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 379 Fed.Appx. 948, 953 (11th Cir. 2010)). That case states, in relevant part:
Because the record demonstrates that the ALJ considered the DOT and the VE's testimony, Waldrop's claim that the ALJ failed to adequately develop the record lacks merit. Moreover, even if the ALJ erred by failing to ask additional questions about the physical demands posed by Waldrop's past work as a human resources clerk, this error did not prejudice Waldrop, as Mancini's expert testimony demonstrated that Waldrop could perform this job as it is performed in the general economy.
Waldrop, 379 Fed.Appx. at 953.[6] This Court agrees with this logic. The ALJ properly developed the record surrounding Holder's employment as she performed it because he had a work history report ..., the benefit of a hearing where Holder was represented by counsel who could develop this record ..., the help of an impartial vocational expert..., [7] and he relied on the Dictionary of Occupational Titles .... Additionally, “[w]hile [claimant] points out that the record contains limited information concerning her duties [in her past relevant work], it is the claimant's burden to demonstrate not only that she can no longer perform her past relevant work as she actually performed it, but also that she can no longer perform this work as it is performed in the general economy.” See Waldrop, 379 Fed.Appx. at 953 (emphasis added).

Holder, 2018 WL 1857061, *3-4 (underlining in original).

         The undersigned agrees with the reasoning of Judge Hopkins. Applying that reasoning to this case, the court finds that Plaintiff is not entitled to any relief on this claim for various reasons. First, the VE's testimony, including the references to the DOT, provides substantial evidence that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work. Second, Plaintiff has not demonstrated that he can no longer preform his past relevant work either as he performed it previously or as the work is generally performed in the national economy. Third, Plaintiff has not shown that any demand associated with either the maintenance mechanic position or the grocery clerk position is inconsistent with his RFC as determined by the ALJ. Thus, the court finds that the determination of the ALJ is supported by substantial evidence and that Plaintiff is not entitled to any relief.

         B. ...


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