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Rosson v. Berryhill

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

June 10, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Matthew Lamar Rosson brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). During the pendency of this action, Mr. Rosson filed two motions to remand, one pursuant to sentence six (doc. 10), and the other pursuant to sentence four (doc. 19). Based on the court's review of the administrative record and the parties' briefs, the court WILL DENY the motions to remand and WILL AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision denying benefits.


         On March 23, 2015, Mr. Rosson applied for SSI, alleging disability beginning on January 4, 2010. (R. at 134-39). Following the initial denial of his claim, Mr. Rosson requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on September 20, 2017. (Id. at 78-93, 112). During the hearing, Mr. Rosson amended his alleged onset date to the filing date of March 17, 2015. (Id. at 10, 81). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on November 15, 2017, finding that Mr. Rosson was not disabled. (Id. at 10-19). On June 25, 2018, the Appeals Council declined Mr. Rosson's request for review (id. at 1-4), making the Commissioner's decision final and ripe for judicial review. See 42 U.S.C §§ 405(g), 1383(c). Following denial of review by the Appeals Council, Mr. Rosson filed an appeal in this court. (Doc. 1). On December 21, 2018, Mr. Rosson filed a sentence six motion to remand based on a favorable decision entered by a different ALJ for his second disability application. (Doc. 10). Thereafter, on May 17, 2019, Mr. Rosson filed a sentence four motion to remand asserting the same arguments provided in his memorandum in support of disability. (Doc. 19).


         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) (quotation marks omitted). “Where the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council denies review, [this court] review[s] the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision.” Henry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 802 F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015) (quotation marks and alteration 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, 802 F.3d at 1267 (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 (quotation marks 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) (quotation marks 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)). 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).


         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. Rosson has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged disability onset date of March 17, 2015. (R. at 12). The ALJ found that Mr. Rosson's morbid obesity, congestive heart failure, obesity hypoventilation syndrome, venous insufficiency, hypertension, and sleep apnea were severe impairments, but that his Diabetes Mellitus (“DM”) was not severe. (Id. at 12-13). The ALJ also found that although Mr. Rosson claimed he suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”) and neuropathy, those were not medically determinable impairments. (Id. at 13). The ALJ concluded that Mr. Rosson did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id. at 13-14). After considering the evidence, the ALJ determined that Mr. Rosson had

the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work[1] as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) with no climbing of ladders, ropes, scaffolds, and no exposure to hazardous, moving machinery or unprotected heights. Climbing of ramps and stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching, as well as bilateral overhead reaching would be limited to occasional.

(R. at 14-15).

         Because Mr. Rosson did not have past relevant work experience, the ALJ found that transferability of job skills was not an issue. (Id. at 17). Based on the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination and testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ concluded that jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Mr. Rosson could perform, including employment as a general office clerk, order clerk, production worker, and table worker. (Id. at 18). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Mr. Rosson was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act during the relevant time period. (Id. at 18-19).


         Mr. Rosson argues that the court should reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision for three reasons: (1) the ALJ failed to properly analyze Mr. Rosson's morbid obesity under SSR 02-1p; (2) the ALJ's RFC finding is conclusory and violated SSR 96-8a; and (3) the VE's testimony on which the ALJ relied is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ's hypothetical was incomplete.[2] (Doc. 9 at 1-18). Mr. Rosson also moves for a sentence six remand ...

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