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Carrell v. Berryhill

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

April 17, 2019

SCOTTIE LYNELL CARRELL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOHN E. OTT CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Scottie Lynell Carrell appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying his applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act. (Doc. 1).[1] Carrell timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies, and the Commissioner's decision is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons discussed below, the court finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.[2]

         I. Procedural History

         Carrell alleges he became disabled on July 8, 2016. (R. 19).[3] Carrell claims he could no longer work due to a below the knee amputation following a car accident. After his claims were denied, he requested a hearing before an ALJ. Following the hearing, the ALJ denied his claim. (R. 18-32).

         He appealed the decision to the Appeals Council (“AC”). After reviewing the record, the AC declined to further review the ALJ's decision. (R. 1-4). That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. See Frye v. Massanari, 209 F.Supp.2d 1246, 1251 (N.D. Ala. 2001) (citing Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1322 (11th Cir. 1998)).

         II. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

         To establish his eligibility for disability benefits, a claimant must show “the inability 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1)(A), 423(d)(1)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). The Social Security Administration employs a five-step sequential analysis to determine an individual's eligibility for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) & 416.920(b).

         First, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” Id. “Under the first step, the claimant has the burden to show that []he is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity.” Reynolds-Buckley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 457 Fed.Appx. 862, 863 (11th Cir. 2012).[4] If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner will determine the claimant is not disabled. At the first step, the ALJ determined Carrell has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 8, 2016. (R. 19).

         If a claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner must next determine whether the claimant suffers from a severe physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c) & 416.920(c). An impairment “must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” See Id. at § 404.1502. Furthermore, it “must be established by medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings, not only by [the claimant's] statement of symptoms.” Id.; see also 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3). An impairment is severe if it “significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities . . . .” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c).[5] “[A]n impairment can be considered as not severe only if it is a slight abnormality which has such a minimal effect on the individual that it would not be expected to interfere with the individual's ability to work, irrespective of age, education, or work experience.” Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914, 920 (11th Cir. 1984); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a). A claimant may be found disabled based on a combination of impairments, even though none of her individual impairments alone is disabling. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1523. The claimant bears the burden of providing medical evidence demonstrating an impairment and its severity. Id. at § 404.1512(a) and (c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the Commissioner will determine the claimant is not disabled. Id. at § & 404.920(c) & 404.1520(a)(4)(ii) and (c).

         At the second step, the ALJ determined Carrell has the following severe impairments: below the knee left leg amputation with use of a prosthesis; phantom limb syndrome; and obesity. (R. 19).

         If the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the Commissioner must then determine whether the impairment meets or equals one of the “Listings” found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. § 404.920(a)(4)(iii) & (d) and § 416.920(d). The claimant bears the burden of proving his impairment meets or equals one of the Listings. Reynolds-Buckley, 457 Fed.Appx. at 863. If the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the Listings, the Commissioner will determine the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) and (d). At the third step, the ALJ determined Carrell did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of one of the Listings. (R. 22).

         If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal one of the Listings, the Commissioner must determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) before proceeding to the fourth step. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e) & 416.920(e). A claimant's RFC is the most she can do despite his impairment. See Id. at § 404.1545(a)(1) & 416.945(a). At the fourth step, the Commissioner will compare the assessment of the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental demands of the claimant's past relevant work. Id. at §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv) and 416.945(a)(4)(iv). “Past relevant work is work that [the claimant] [has] done within the past 15 years, that was substantial gainful activity, and that lasted long enough for [the claimant] to learn to do it.” Id. § 404.1560(b)(1) and 416.960(b)(1). The claimant bears the burden of proving that her impairment prevents him from performing her past relevant work. Reynolds-Buckley, 457 Fed.Appx. at 863. If the claimant is capable of performing his past relevant work, the Commissioner will determine the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1560(b), 416.945(a)(4(iv).

         Before proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ determined Carrell has the RFC to perform a limited range of light work. (R. at 23). More specifically, the ALJ found Carrell had the following limitations with regard to light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) & 416.967(b):

the claimant can lift and carry twenty pounds frequently and ten pounds occasionally. He can sit approximately six hours in an eight-hour workday with all customary breaks, and stand/walk approximately four hours in an eight-hour workday with all customary work breaks. The claimant cannot operate foot controls with his left leg, but can occasionally operate foot controls with his right leg. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but can never work on ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally balance and stoop, but never kneel, crouch, or crawl. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and heat, and vibrations. He should avoid all exposure to dangerous moving machinery, unprotected heights, and commercial driving.

(Id. at 23). At the fourth step, the ALJ determined Carrell would not be able to perform his past relevant work as a welder and boilermaker. (Id. at 30).

         If the claimant is unable to perform her past relevant work, the Commissioner must finally determine whether the claimant is capable of performing other work that exists in substantial numbers in the national economy in light of the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) & (g)(1), 404.1560(c)(1), 404.920(a)(4)(v) & (g)(1). If the claimant is capable of performing other work, the Commissioner will determine the claimant is not disabled. Id.at § 404.1520(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1). If the claimant is not capable of performing other work, the Commissioner will determine the claimant is disabled. Id.

         At the fifth step, considering Carrell's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined he can perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as those of hand bander, tagger, and inspector. (R. 31). Therefore, the ALJ concluded Carrell has not been under a disability as defined by the Act since June 2, 2016, through the date of the decision. (R. 32).

         III. Standard of Review

         Review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to a determination whether that decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner applied correct legal standards. Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). A district court must review the Commissioner's findings of fact with deference and may not reconsider the facts, reevaluate the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260 (11th Cir. 2007); Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). Rather, a district court must “scrutinize the record as a whole to determine whether the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (internal citations omitted). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. It is “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Id. A district court must uphold factual findings supported by substantial evidence, even if the preponderance of the evidence is against those findings. Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996) (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990)).

         A district court reviews the Commissioner's legal conclusions de novo. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). “The [Commissioner's] failure to apply the correct law or to provide the reviewing court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has been conducted ...


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