Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Phifer v. Berryhill

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

July 24, 2019

CHRISTIN PHIFER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOHN E. OTT CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Christin Phifer appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying her application supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act. (Doc.).[1]Phifer timely pursued and exhausted her 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 remanded.[2]

         I. Procedural History

         At the time of the decision, Plaintiff was 50 years old. (R. 22, 170). She has a ninth grade education[3] and has past relevant work as a vendor and server. (R. 32, 60-61, 175). Plaintiff alleges she became disabled on May 20, 2014. (R.15).[4] She claims she could no longer work due to her treatment for breast cancer and associated complications and pain. After her claims were denied initially, she requested a hearing before an ALJ. (R. 84-86). Following the hearing, the ALJ denied her claim. (R. 15-22).

         She 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).[5] 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 Phifer has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 13, 2015. (R. 17).

         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).[6] “[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 Phifer has the severe impairment of history of breast cancer in remission. (R. 17).

         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 Phifer did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of listing 13.10 for breast cancer. (R. 17-18).

         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 her 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 Phifer has the RFC to perform a range of light work. (R. 18-20). More specifically, the ALJ found Phifer had the following limitations with regard to light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.967(b):

the claimant can lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. She is capable of standing and/or walking for six hours in an eight-hour work day, with normal breaks. She could sit for six hours (with normal breaks) in an eight-hour workday. She should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds but could occasionally climb ramps and stairs. She could balance frequently, and occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. She is capable of occasional overhead reaching and frequent handling, fingering, and feeling. As for her work environment, she should avoid concentrated exposure to vibrations. She ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.