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Wade v. Berryhill

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

September 24, 2018

ELLIS TODD WADE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          T. MICHAEL PUTNAM U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Ellis Todd Wade, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his application for a period of disability, Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Wade 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). The parties have consented to the exercise of dispositive jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 15).

         I. Introduction

         Wade was 47 years old on the date of the ALJ's opinion. (Tr. at 18, 145). He graduated from high school in 1989. (Tr. at 180). He previously worked as a supervisor at Houston Wood Products, Inc., from 1989 until 2013, building furniture and operating heavy machinery. (Tr. at 159, 180). He also was self-employed as a livestock rancher in 2014. (Tr. at 49, 159). Wade claims that he became disabled on May 3, 2013, due to bilateral hip replacements, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, “numbness in feet and legs, ” “chronic pain in both shoulders, ” “severe pain in legs and hips, ” and “border line diab[etes].” (Tr. at 179). At the ALJ's hearing, however, he amended his disability onset date to December 29, 2014. (Tr. at 10, 30).

         When evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of eighteen, the regulations prescribe a five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a determination of whether the claimant is “doing substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If he is, the claimant is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If he is not, the Commissioner next considers the effect of all of the physical and mental impairments combined. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These impairments must be severe and must meet the durational requirements before a claimant will be found to be disabled. Id. The decision depends on the medical evidence in the record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971). If the claimant's impairments are not severe, the analysis stops. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Otherwise, the analysis continues to step three, which is a determination of whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant's impairments fall within this category, he will be found disabled without further consideration. Id. If they do not, a determination of the claimant's residual functional capacity will be made and the analysis proceeds to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Residual functional capacity (“RFC”) is an assessment, based on all relevant evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to do work despite his impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.945(a)(1).

         The fourth step requires a determination of whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from returning to past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can still do his past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant cannot do past relevant work, then the analysis proceeds to the fifth step. Id. Step five requires the court to consider the claimant's RFC, as well as the claimant's age, education, and past work experience, in order to determine if he can do other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do other work, the claimant is not disabled. Id. The burden is on the Commissioner to demonstrate that other jobs exist which the claimant can perform; and, once that burden is met, the claimant must prove his or her inability to perform those jobs in order to be found disabled. Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999).

         Applying the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Wade meets the nondisability requirements for a period of disability and DIB and was insured through December 31, 2019. (Tr. at 12). He further determined that Wade has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended alleged onset of his disability on December 29, 2014. Id. According to the ALJ, the plaintiff has the following impairments that are considered “severe” based on the requirements set forth in the regulations: arthritis with a history of bilateral hip arthroplasty, obesity, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. 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. (Tr. at 13). The ALJ did not find Wade's allegations related to the limiting effects of his impairments to be entirely credible (tr. at 14), and he determined that he has the following residual functional capacity:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he can lift 20 pounds occasionally. He can stand and/or walk six hours and sit six hours with a sit/stand option on the half hour for a few minutes while continuing to work. He cannot push or pull with the bilateral lower extremities. He occasionally can climb stairs and ramps; balance, kneel, crawl, stoop, and crouch. He cannot work at unprotected heights or climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.

(Tr. at 13).

         According to the ALJ, Wade is unable to perform any of his past relevant work, he is a “younger individual, ” and he has “at least a high school education, ” as those terms are defined by the regulations. (Tr. at 16-17). He determined that “[t]ransferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is ‘not disabled,' whether or not he has transferable job skills.” (Tr. at 17). The ALJ found that “jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform, ” specifically as a furniture rental consultant, a sales attendant, and a bottling line attendant. Id. The ALJ concluded his findings by stating that Plaintiff “has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from December 29, 2014, through the date of this decision.” (Tr. at 18).

         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 Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). The court approaches the factual findings of the Commissioner with deference, but applies close scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Mitchell v. Commissioner, Soc. Sec. Admin., 771 F.3d 780, 782 (11th Cir. 2014). The court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400. “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. Federal Mar. Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if this court finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, the Court must affirm if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Miles, 84 F.3d at 1400. No. decision is automatic, however, for “despite this deferential standard [for review of claims] it is imperative that the court scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached.” Bridges v.

         Bowen, 815 F.2d 622, 624 (11th Cir. 1987). Moreover, failure to apply the correct legal standards is grounds for reversal. See Bowen v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 629, 635 (11th Cir. 1984).

         III. ...


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