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Waters v. Berryhill

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

July 1, 2019

SHANNA ROCHELL WATERS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          P. BRADLEY MURRAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Shanna Rochell Waters brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her claim for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). 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. 17 (“In accordance with the 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. 18. Upon consideration of the administrative record, Waters's brief, the Commissioner's brief, and oral argument presented at the February 6, 2019 hearing before the undersigned Magistrate Judge, it is determined that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits should be affirmed.[1]

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Waters applied for a period of disability and DIB, under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 - 425, on August 4, 2015, alleging disability beginning on July 28, 2015. (Tr. 139-45). Her application was denied at the initial level of administrative review on September 11, 2015. (Tr. 102-07). On September 24, 2015, Waters requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 110-11). Waters appeared at a hearing before the ALJ on April 3, 2017. (Tr. 31-58). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Waters was not under a disability during the applicable time period on August 29, 2017. (Tr. 15-26). Waters appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, and, on April 25, 2018, the Appeals Council denied her request for review of the ALJ's decision, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3).

         After exhausting her administrative remedies, Waters sought judicial review in this Court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g). (Doc. 1). The Commissioner filed an answer and the social security transcript on July 30, 2018. (Docs. 10, 11). Both parties filed briefs setting forth their respective positions. (Docs. 13, 14). Oral argument was held before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on February 6, 2019. (Doc. 19). The case is now ripe for decision.

         II. CLAIMS ON APPEAL

         Waters alleges that the ALJ's decision to deny her benefits is in error because the ALJ failed to order a consultative examination. (Doc. 13 at p. 1).

         III. BACKGROUND FACTS

         Waters was born on July 21, 1971 and was 44 years old at the time she filed her claim for benefits. (Tr. 34). Waters alleged disability due to degenerative disc disease, back problems, fibromyalgia, arthritis, carpal tunnel in both hands, and diabetes. (Tr. 172). Although she was primarily in special education classes, she completed high school and obtained a graduation certificate. (Tr. 35-36; 156-57). She has worked as a sawmill worker, construction laborer, sewing machine operator, security gate guard, and level winder. (Tr. 36-38; 196-201). She testified that the problems with her back are the reason she left her job as a level winder where she had to stand on cement in steel toed shoes and the reason that she cannot work now. (Tr. 36, 39). Waters testified that she is able to bathe, dress, and groom herself. (Tr. 44-45). According to Waters, on a typical day, after showering, she makes herself something to eat, then works on doing her household chores. (Tr. 44). She testified that doing her household chores used to take her two hours, but because she cannot stand too long, it now takes her all day. (Id.). She can drive but does not because it causes pain and numbness in her legs. (Tr. 35). Her daughter drives her to church, to the store (where she shops for herself), and to watch her grandson play sports. (Tr. 45).

         IV. ALJ'S DECISION

         After conducting a hearing, the ALJ made a determination that Waters was not under a disability at any time from July 28, 2015, the alleged onset date, through August 29, 2017, the date of the ALJ's decision, and thus, was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 15-26). After considering all of the evidence, the ALJ made the following findings in her August 29, 2017 decision that are relevant to the issues presented:

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) except she would need to be able to alternate positions at will between sitting and standing, and this could be accommodated without leaving the workstation.
The claimant has sufficient evidence in the record to show that she has the severe impairments of degenerative joint disease, degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, diabetes with diabetic neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, and obesity. The medical evidence documents the diagnoses of the impairments, that the impairments have endured for more than twelve months and that the ...

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