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Smith v. Berryhill

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

February 5, 2019

CASSANDRA SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          BRADLEY MURRAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff 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 denying her claims for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. 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. 23 (“In accordance with 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. 25 (endorsed order of reference)). Upon consideration of the administrative record, Plaintiff's brief, and the Commissioner's brief, [1] it is determined that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits is due to be affirmed.[2]

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income, in late December 2014 to early January of 2015, alleging disability beginning on October 30, 2014. (See Tr. 498-505.) Smith's claims were initially denied on May 1, 2015 (Tr. 381-83 & 429-39) and, following Plaintiff's June 4, 2015 written request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 443; see also Tr. 440-41), a hearing was conducted before an ALJ on December 2, 2016 (Tr.172-92). On April 7, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding that the claimant was not disabled and, therefore, not entitled to a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, or supplemental security income. (Tr. 39-56). More specifically, the ALJ proceeded to the fifth step of the five-step sequential evaluation process and determined that Smith retains the residual functional capacity to perform those light jobs identified by the vocational expert (“VE”) during the administrative hearing (compare Id. at 55 with Tr. 188-90 & 191). Sometime thereafter, the Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's unfavorable decision to the Appeals Council; in an opinion directed solely to Plaintiff's claim for SSI benefits, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 1, 2018 (Tr. 4-7) and, that same date, an Order issued from the Appeals Council notifying Plaintiff that it was dismissing her request for a hearing dated June 4, 2015 on her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, finding the ALJ's decision dated April 7, 2017 of no effect on that claim, and finding the “decision dated May 1, 2015 stands as the final decision of the Commissioner for the claim for a period of disability[ and] disability insurance benefits.” (Tr. 2; see also Id. (“On December 30, 2014, the claimant filed an application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits alleging that she became disabled on October 30, 2014. The claimant last met the requirements of insured status for a period of disability, disability benefits on June 30, 2006. Thus, the alleged onset date is after the claimant's date last insured. In view of the above, the claimant's request for hearing filed on June 4, 2015 for the claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, should have been dismissed by the Administrative Law Judge as provided by 20 CFR 404.957.”)). Thus, the hearing decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security on Plaintiff's claim for SSI benefits; however, the Order of the Appeals Counsel dated February 1, 2018, stands as the final decision on Plaintiff's claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits.

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to morbid obesity with peripheral edema, hypothyroidism, hypertension, mitral valve prolapse with atypical chest pain and history of angina, occipital lymphadenopathy, sleep apnea, arthritis, bursitis, sacroiliac dysfunction with chronic low back pain, bilateral shoulder pain status-post two left shoulder surgeries, thyroid nodules, hyperglycemia with mildly elevated glucose, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and diabetes mellitus. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) made the following relevant findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2006.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 30, 2014, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: morbid obesity with peripheral edema, hypothyroidism, hypertension (HTN), mitral valve prolapse (MVP) with atypical chest pain [and] history of angina, occipital lymphadenopathy, sleep apnea, arthritis, bursitis, sacroiliac dysfunction with chronic low back pain (CLBP[)] and bilateral shoulder pain s/p two (2) left shoulder surgeries, thyroid nodule, hyperglycemia with mildly elevated glucose, major depressive disorder (MDD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. 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 no overhead reaching bilaterally; frequently reaching in all directions; and can understand, remember, and carry out short simple instructions not detailed or complex instructions; can attend to tasks or concentrate and persist at an appropriate pace for two-hour intervals at a time throughout the course of an 8-hour workday with customary work breaks; contact with co-workers and the general public should be infrequent or occasional; supervision should be provided in a supportive manner and changes in the work routine should be gradually introduced.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on December 31, 1974, and was 39 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not an issue in this case because the claimant's past relevant work is unskilled (20 CFR 404.1568 and 416.968).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from October 30, 2014, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

(Tr. 41, 42, 44, 54, 55 & 56 (emphasis in original)).

         II. Standard of Review ...


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