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Parker v. Berryhill

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

July 8, 2019

EVERETT GENE PARKER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          John E. Ott Chief United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Everett Gene Parker appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying his application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act. (Doc. 1).[1] Parker timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies, and the Commissioner's decision is ripe for review. For the reasons discussed below, the court finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.[2]

         I. Procedural History

         Parker was fifty-five years old at the time of the hearing. (R. 34).[3] He graduated from high school and attended special education classes. (Id.). Parker can read and write and do simple math. (R. 25). His past work history includes fast food preparation, work at a poultry plant, and hand packager at a car part manufacturer. (R. 35-37, 47-48). His last job was at Jack's in 2006. (R. 35-36). He has not looked for work since he last worked. (R. 37).

         Parker alleges he became disabled on March 22, 2012. (R. 19, 143). The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied his claims initially, (R. 83-87), Parker requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). A video hearing was held on July 5, 2017. (R. 30-50). Following the hearing, the ALJ denied his claim. (R. 19-26). Parker appealed the decision to the Appeals Council (“AC”). After reviewing the record, the AC declined to further review the ALJ's decision. (R. 1-6). That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner and is now ripe for review. 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. § 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 Parker has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 27, 2015, the date of his application. (R. 21).

         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. § 416.920 (a)(4)(ii) & (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 § 416.921. 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. § 416.922(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 his individual impairments alone is disabling. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 The claimant bears the burden of providing medical evidence demonstrating an impairment and its severity. Id. at § 416.912(a). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the Commissioner will determine the claimant is not disabled. Id. at § 416.920(a)(4)(ii) and (c). At the second step, the ALJ determined Parker has the following severe impairments: depression, borderline intellectual functioning, hiatal hernia, and osteoarthritis status post history of lower extremity fractures. (R. 21).

         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. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii) & (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 § 416.920(a)(4)(iii) and (d). At the third step, the ALJ determined Parker did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of one of the Listings. (R. 21-24).

         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. § 416.920(e). A claimant's RFC is the most he can do despite his impairment. See Id. at § 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 § 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. § 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv) & (f).

         Before proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ determined Parker has the RFC to perform a limited range of light work. (R. at 24). More specifically, the ALJ found Parker had the following limitations with regard to light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b):

he can only lift up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; he can carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently he can sit for up to six hours in an eight-hour workday; he can stand for up to six hours in an eight-hour workday; he can walk for up to six hours in an eight-hour workday; he can push and pull as much as he can lift or carry; he can frequently climb ramps and stairs; he can occasionally climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds; he can frequently stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; he should be limited to performing simple, routine tasks; and he can have occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors. Occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors is defined as the ability to work in proximity to others, but not on team positions. The claimant can respond appropriately to the public and can have occasional contact with the general public.

(Id.). At the fourth step, the ALJ determined Parker was capable of performing his past relevant work as a hand packager. (Id. at 26). With this determination, the inquiry ended because if the claimant is capable of performing other work, the Commissioner will determine the claimant is not disabled. Id.at § 416.920(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1). The ALJ found Parker had not been under a disability as defined by the SSA since April 27, 2015. (R. 26).

         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 ...


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