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Washington v. Berryhill

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

June 20, 2018

RODNEY J. WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          P. BRADLEY MURRAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Rodney J. Washington brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying his claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), based on disability. The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court. (Doc. 20 (“In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, … order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings.”)). See also Doc. 22. Upon consideration of the administrative record, Washington's brief, the Commissioner's brief, all other documents of record, and oral argument, it is determined that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits should be affirmed.[1]

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On August 29, 2013, Washington applied for a Period of Disability and DIB, under Title II of the Social Security Act, and for SSI, based on disability, under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383d, alleging disability beginning on December 31, 2012. (Tr. 299-308). After his application was denied at the initial level of administrative review on December 17, 2013, Washington requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 170-77). After an initial hearing was held on May 12, 2015, the ALJ issued an adverse decision on June 5, 2015, which was reversed and remanded by the Appeals Council on October 20, 2016. (Tr. 43-44). A second hearing was held on February 24, 2017, which also resulted in the ALJ issuing an unfavorable decision finding that Washington was not under a disability from the date the application was filed through the date of the decision, March 7, 2017. (Tr. 18-80). Washington appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review on July 31, 2017. (Tr. 1-5).

         After exhausting his administrative remedies, Washington sought judicial review in this Court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). (Doc. 1). The Commissioner filed an answer and the social security transcript on December 8, 2017. (Docs. 11, 12). On January 3, 2018, Washington filed a brief in support of his claim. (Doc. 13). The Commissioner filed her brief on March 20, 2018. (Doc. 17). Oral argument was held before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on May 9, 2018. (Doc. 21). The case is now ripe for decision.

         II. CLAIMS ON APPEAL

         Washington presents the following claims in this appeal:

1. Whether the ALJ committed reversible error in violation of Social Security Rulings 96-8p and 96-6p by failing to assess any non-exertional limitations when formulating his Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) despite finding that he had the severe impairment of mild intellectual disability;
2. Whether the ALJ committed reversible error in applying Rule 201.24 of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines despite finding that he had non-exertional limitations from his severe impairment of mild intellectual disability; and
3. Whether the ALJ erred in failing to find that his mental impairment met the requirements of Listing 12.05(b).

(Doc. 13 at p. 2).

         III. BACKGROUND FACTS

         Washington was born on November 11, 1977, making him 36 years old at the time he filed his claim for benefits. (Tr. 299). Washington alleged disability due to slow learning, bad knees, and a right arm problem. (Tr. 376). He left high school after 10thgrade in 1996, after having attended special education classes when he was in school. (Tr. 377). When he was 14, he was assessed with a full-scale IQ score of 47. (Tr. 46). He has not completed any type of specialized job training, trade, or vocational school. (Id.) According to Washington, he cannot read or write at a functional level. (Tr. 46). Since high school, he has worked at various times doing lawn service, disposing of tires, and doing various construction-type work, such as mixing mud for a brick layer. (Id.).

         Washington generally handles his own personal care. (Tr. 392-93, 525). During the relevant period here, he either lived with his girlfriend and two children or alone. (Id.). His girlfriend and his sisters help him take care of his children. (Tr. 392). He is able to prepare simple meals, like sandwiches, canned foods, eggs, and Hot Pockets, and does so about twice a week. (Tr. 70, 393, 525). He is able to pick up trash, rake, and cut the grass with support, but according to him and his girlfriend, he needs help to stay on task. (Id.). He does not drive, but can meet basic transportation needs. (Tr. 394, 525). He goes outside at his home on a daily basis. (Id.). He does not pay bills, handle a savings account, or use a checkbook or money orders because he can't count, read, or understand well enough to do these things, but he can manage small amounts of money. (Tr. 394, 525). He spends his time watching television, walking, looking at comic books, and visiting his mother's home and sister's home which are next to his home. (Tr. 395). He is able to wash his own clothes. (Tr. 525). He alleges that his condition affects his talking, memory, completing tasks, concentration, understanding, and following instructions, that he gets upset when he is told to do things that he can't seem to understand, and that he has trouble following written instructions because he can barely read, but can follow spoken instructions when spoken slowly and in simple words. (Tr. 396). He gets along with authority figures, but does not handle stress or changes in routine well. (Tr. 397).

         Washington testified at the first hearing in May of 2015 that he cannot do his prior jobs because of problems with his right hand and knee. (Tr. 71-74). At the second hearing in February of 2017, he continued to complain of problems with his right hand and testified as to his reading and math difficulties, as well as some problems interacting adequately with other people. (Tr. 46-49). After conducting the hearing in February of 2017, the ALJ again made a determination that Washington had not been under a disability during the relevant time period, and thus, was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 36-65).

         IV. ...


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