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Parker v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

October 30, 2018

JOHN HUNTER PARKER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WALLACE CAPEL, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On October 17, 2014, John Hunter Parker, (“Plaintiff”) filed applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and for supplemental security income, alleging that he became disabled on April 7, 2013. The applications were denied at the initial administrative level. Plaintiff then requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Following the hearing, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision dated August 23, 2016. Plaintiff appealed that decision and the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. The ALJ's decision consequently became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”).[2] See Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). The case is now before the court for review of that decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties have consented to the conduct of all proceedings and entry of a final judgment by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. Pl.'s Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. 12); Def.'s Consent to Jurisdiction (Doc. 11). Based on the court's review of the record and the parties' briefs, the court REVERSES the Commissioner's decision and REMANDS this matter to the Commissioner for further consideration.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to benefits when the person is unable 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).[3]

         To make this determination, the Commissioner employs a five-step, sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2011).

(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment meet or equal one of the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 [the Listing of Impairments]?
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former occupation?
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the economy? An affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next question, or, on steps three and five, to a finding of disability. A negative answer to any question, other than step three, leads to a determination of “not disabled.”

McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986).[4]

         The burden of proof rests on the claimant through Step Four. See Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-39 (11th Cir. 2004). A claimant establishes a prima facie case of qualifying disability once he or she has carried the burden of proof from Step One through Step Four. At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner, who must then show that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Id.

         To perform the fourth and fifth steps, the ALJ must determine the claimant's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). Id. at 1238-39. The RFC is what the claimant is still able to do despite the claimant's impairments and is based on all relevant medical and other evidence. Id. It may contain both exertional and nonexertional limitations. Id. at 1242-43. At the fifth step, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience to determine if there are jobs available in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Id. at 1239. To do this, the ALJ can use either the Medical Vocational Guidelines (“grids”), see 20 C.F.R. pt. 404 subpt. P, app. 2, or call a vocational expert (“VE”). Id. at 1239-40.

         The grids allow the ALJ to consider factors such as age, confinement to sedentary or light work, inability to speak English, educational deficiencies, and lack of job experience. Each factor can independently limit the number of jobs realistically available to an individual. Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1240. Combinations of these factors yield a statutorily-required finding of “Disabled” or “Not Disabled.” Id.

         The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is a limited one. This court must find the Commissioner's decision conclusive if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see also Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004) (“Even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings, [a reviewing court] must affirm if the decision reached is supported by substantial evidence.”). A reviewing court may not look only to those parts of the record which support the decision of the ALJ, but instead must view the record in its entirety and take account of evidence which detracts from the evidence relied on by the ALJ. Hillsman v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179 (11th Cir. 1986).

[The court must] . . . scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the [Commissioner's] . . . factual findings. . . . No. similar presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] . . . legal conclusions, including determination of the proper standards to be applied in evaluating claims.

Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).

         III. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         Plaintiff was thirty-one years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. Tr. 40, 227, 229. He completed high school, during which he took special education classes. Tr. 248-49. Plaintiff had past work experience as a general laborer, mechanic helper, warehouse worker, and janitor. Tr. 82-83, 266-273. Following the administrative hearing, and employing the five-step process, the ALJ found at Step One that Plaintiff “has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 7, 2013, the alleged onset date[.]” Tr. 19. At Step Two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: “obesity in combination with history of right ankle fracture, schizoaffective disorder, conduct disorder, antisocial disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and history of seizures[.]” Id. At Step Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments[.]” Tr. 20. Next, the ALJ articulated Plaintiff's RFC as follows:

[t]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except the claimant is limited to occasional climbing ramps and stairs. The claimant is precluded from climbing ladders and scaffolds. The claimant can frequently balance, stoop, knee[l], crouch and crawl. The claimant is also precluded from working around unprotected heights, hazardous, moving mechanical parts and operating a motor vehicle for commercial purposes. The claimant is limited to simple, repetitive, and routine tasks. The claimant is limited to occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the public. The claimant is also limited to having occasional ...

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