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Ragland v. Social Security Administration

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

March 12, 2019

JIMMIE RAGLAND, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, COMMISSIONER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jimmie Ragland, Jr. appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claims for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. Based on the court's review of the administrative record and the parties' briefs, the court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Mr. Ragland applied for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income on April 17, 2014. (R. 74-75). Mr. Ragland alleged that his disability began on March 10, 2011. (R. 48-49). The Commissioner initially denied Mr. Ragland's claims on June 24, 2014. (R. 98-106). Mr. Ragland requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (R. 111-112). After holding a hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on May 6, 2016. (R. 21-34). On April 28, 2017, the Appeals Council declined Mr. Ragland's request for review (R. 1), making the Commissioner's decision final and ripe for the court's judicial review. See 42 U.S.C §§ 405(g); 1383(c).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The court “must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards.” Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Under the substantial evidence standard, this court will affirm the ALJ's decision if there exists ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Henry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 802 F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178). The court may not “decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, ” or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (internal quotations and citation omitted). The court must affirm “[e]ven if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings.” Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2004) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Despite the deferential standard for review of claims, the court must “‘scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.'” Henry, 802 F.3d at 1267 (quoting MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053 (11th Cir. 1986)). Moreover, the court must reverse the Commissioner's decision if the ALJ does not apply the correct legal standards. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

         III. ALJ'S DECISION

         To determine whether an individual is disabled, an ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. The ALJ considers:

(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment, whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience.

Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178.

         Here, the ALJ determined that Mr. Ragland has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 10, 2011, the alleged onset date. (R. 23). The ALJ found that Mr. Ragland has the following severe impairments: hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and degenerative disc disease. (R. 23). The ALJ concluded that Mr. Ragland does not suffer from an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 24).

         After considering the evidence of record, the ALJ determined that Mr. Ragland has the RFC to perform:

light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except claimant can occasionally climb stairs and ramps but never ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; can occasionally balance, stoop, and kneel, but never crouch or crawl; can constantly reach, handle, finger, and feel; cannot work around concentrated exposure to extreme cold or wetness; and should never work around hazardous condition[s] such as unprotected heights or moving machinery.

(R. 26).

         Based on this RFC, the ALJ found that Mr. Ragland cannot perform his past relevant work. (R. 32). Relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that jobs exist in the national economy that Mr. Ragland can perform, including cashier II, housekeeper, garment sorter, surveillance system monitor, telephone quotation clerk, and wire tapper. (R. 33). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mr. Ragland has not been under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, from March 10, 2011 through the date of the decision. (R. 34).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Mr. Ragland argues that the court should reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision for five reasons: (1) the ALJ did not properly evaluate the opinion of treating physician Dr. Ochuko Odjegba; (2) the ALJ substituted her opinion for that of one-time examining physician Dr. Jarrod Warren; (3) the vocational expert's testimony on which the ALJ relied is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ's hypothetical was incomplete; (4) the ALJ's RFC finding is conclusory and violated SSR 96-8a; and (5) the ALJ did not properly consider Mr.

         Ragland's testimony concerning the side effects of his medication. The ...


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