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Smith v. Berryhill

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

February 13, 2019

ANGELA SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

          L. Scott Cooler, United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         The plaintiff, Angela Smith, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Ms. Smith timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

         Ms. Smith was 47 years old on the date of the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision, and she has an eighth grade education. (Tr. at 204, 209.) Her past work experiences include employment as a housekeeper in a hospital setting, tray worker, and personal care aide. (Tr. at 40, 196-99.) Ms. Smith alleges that she became disabled on May 23, 2013, due to musculoskeletal and blood conditions. (Tr. at 208.)

         The Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled and thus eligible for DIB or SSI. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The evaluator will follow the steps in order until making a finding of either disabled or not disabled; if no finding is made, the analysis will proceed to the next step. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The first step requires the evaluator to determine whether the plaintiff is engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”). See Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the plaintiff is not engaged in SGA, the evaluator moves on to the next step.

         The second step requires the evaluator to consider the combined severity of the plaintiff's medically determinable physical and mental impairments. See Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An individual impairment or combination of impairments that is not classified as “severe” and does not satisfy the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509 and 416.909 will result in a finding of not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). The decision depends on the medical evidence contained in the record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971) (concluding that “substantial medical evidence in the record” adequately supported the finding that plaintiff was not disabled).

         Similarly, the third step requires the evaluator to consider whether the plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments meets or is medically equal to the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the criteria of a listed impairment and the durational requirements set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509 and 416.909 are satisfied, the evaluator will make a finding of disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).

         If the plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, the evaluator must determine the plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) before proceeding to the fourth step. See Id. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). The fourth step requires the evaluator to determine whether the plaintiff has the RFC to perform the requirements of his past relevant work. See Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments does not prevent him from performing his past relevant work, the evaluator will make a finding of not disabled. See id.

         The fifth and final step requires the evaluator to consider the plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and work experience in order to determine whether the plaintiff can make an adjustment to other work. See Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the plaintiff can perform other work, the evaluator will find him not disabled. Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the plaintiff cannot perform other work, the evaluator will find him disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g), 416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.920(g).

         Applying the sequential evaluation process, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) first found that Ms. Smith has not engaged in SGA since October 30, 2013, the date of her SSI application. (Tr. at 29.) According to the ALJ, Plaintiff's cervical radiculitis, brachia neuritis, chronic pain syndrome, lumbar spondylosis, knee pain, osteoarthritis, abdominal pain, obesity, insomnia, hypertension, and borderline intellectual functioning are considered “severe” based on the requirements set forth in the regulations. (Id.) However, she 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 33.) The ALJ determined that Ms. Smith has the following RFC:

to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. [§] 416.967(b) except that the claimant has the following non-exertional limitations that reduce her capacity to perform the full range of light work: She can lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; can stand and/or walk six hours in an eight-hour day; can sit six hours in an eight-hour day; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; can never climb a ladder, rope, or scaffolding; can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; can never work at unprotected heights, around hazardous machinery, or driving commercial vehicles; can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions; can maintain attention and concentration for two hour time periods in order to complete an eight-hour workday; and can adapt to changes in the workplace that are introduced gradually and infrequently.

(Tr. at 34-35.)

         Next, the ALJ obtained the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) and determined at steps four and five of the sequential evaluation process that Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as a housekeeper in a hospital and a tray worker and that she could also make an adjustment to other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as hotel housekeeper, garment sorter, and laundry sorter. (Tr. at 40-41.) The ALJ concluded her findings by stating that Plaintiff has not been under a “disability, ” as defined in the Social Security Act, since October 30, 2013, the date the SSI application was filed. (Tr. at 42.)

         II. ...


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