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Bennett v. Saul

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

September 24, 2019

LORENZO BENNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          P. BRADLEY MURRAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Lorenzo Bennett brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. 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. 16 (“In accordance with 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 (endorsed order of reference by District Judge William H. Steele)). Upon consideration of the administrative record, Plaintiff’s brief, and the Commissioner’s brief, [1] the Court concludes that the Commissioner’s decision denying benefits should be reversed and remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this decision.[2]

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on or about March 4, 2016, alleging disability beginning on December 7, 2015. (See Tr. 173-74). Bennett’s claim was initially denied on April 14, 2016 (Tr. 68 & 82-86) and, following Plaintiff’s April 28, 2016 oral request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (see Tr. 89-90), hearings were conducted before an ALJ on October 3, 2017 (Tr. 51-66) and, again, on May 15, 2018 (Tr. 35-49). On June 27, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding that the claimant was not disabled and, therefore, not entitled to disability insurance benefits. (Tr. 12-20). More specifically, the ALJ determined that Bennett retains the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), with limitations, and those sedentary jobs identified by the VE during the hearing on May 15, 2018 (compare Tr. 19 with Tr. 45-47). On July 6, 2018, the Plaintiff appealed the ALJ’s unfavorable decision to the Appeals Council (Tr. 171); the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review on February 8, 2019 (Tr. 1-3). Thus, the hearing decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to rheumatoid arthritis, major joint dysfunction, and obesity. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) made the following relevant findings:

2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 7, 2015, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.)
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: major joint dysfunction and obesity (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
. . .
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
. . .
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except that he only can lift/carry up to 20 pounds occasionally; sit for 8 hours in an 8-hour workday; stand for 20 minutes at one time and [a] total of 2 hours in an 8-hour workday with breaks; walk 20 minutes at one time and [a] total of 1 hour in an 8-hour workday with breaks. The claimant, who is right hand dominant, can never use his right hand for reaching overhead, but occasionally, he can do all other reaching, handling, fingering, feeling and pushing/pulling with either hand. He can never use his feet for the operation of foot controls. He can occasionally climb stairs and ramps and balance; he can never climb ladders or scaffolds, and never stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl. At the initial hearing, claimant’s attorney stipulated that no non-exertional limitations are alleged or shown in the medical evidence of record.[3]
. . .
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 ...

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