United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
DAVID J. REED, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
BRADLEY MURRAY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
David J. Reed brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review
of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“the Commissioner”) denying his claim for a
Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). 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. 25 (“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 Doc. 30. Upon
consideration of the administrative reSwimcord, Reed’s
brief, and the Commissioner’s brief,  it is determined
that the Commissioner’s decision denying benefits
should be affirmed.
about February 13, 2017, Reed applied for a Period of
Disability and DIB, under Title II of the Social Security
Act, alleging disability beginning on September 21, 2009.
(Tr. 160-64). His application was denied at the initial level
of administrative review on June 16, 2017. (Tr. 102-06). On
June 28, 2017, Reed requested a hearing by an Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 109-10). On or about October 4, 2017,
Reed submitted a statement amending his alleged onset date to
March 19, 2015. (Tr. 204). After a hearing was held on
December 6, 2017 (Tr. 2731-59), the ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision finding that Reed was not under a disability from
the alleged onset date of his disability through the date of
the decision, April 5, 2018. (Tr. 15-41). Reed appealed the
ALJ’s decision to the Appeals Council, which denied his
request for review on June 19, 2018. (Tr. 1-5).
exhausting his administrative remedies, Reed sought judicial
review in this Court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g) and 1383(c). (Doc. 1). The Commissioner filed an
answer and the social security transcript on November 5,
2018. (Docs. 10, 11). This transcript was subsequently
stricken and both a modified transcript and a supplemental
transcript were filed in its place. (Docs. 17-1 & 17-2).
Both parties filed briefs setting forth their respective
positions. (Docs. 20, 22). The case is now ripe for decision.
CLAIMS ON APPEAL
alleges that the ALJ’s decision to deny him benefits is
in error for the following reasons:
1. The ALJ erred by failing to find Reed’s PTSD,
depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and degenerative joint
disease (DJD) in the right shoulder to be severe impairments;
2. The ALJ’s Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)
determination was not supported by substantial evidence.
(Doc. 20 at pp. 1-2).
was born on March 20, 1965 and was almost 52 years old at the
time he filed his claim for benefits. (Tr. 160, 221). Reed
initially alleged disability due to a left shoulder injury
while on active duty in the Army, sciatica, and nerve damage
in his right arm. (Tr. 225). Reed completed two years of
college in 2001, and he received specialized training as a
military medic in 1987 and again in 2008. (Tr. 226). He has
worked in the past as a combat medic in the Army, a lab
assistant, a phlebotomist, and an apartment maintenance
technician, but he has not worked since his alleged onset
date. (Tr. 226, 235). He indicated that he generally engages
in normal daily activities; such as, personal care, some
driving, light housework, food preparation, shopping,
paperwork, reading his Bible, conversing with family and
friends, and watching television. (Tr. 243-47). He testified
that he attends church twice per week and enjoys volunteering
at church and with the VA. (Tr. 2751-53). He reported that
his memory has been hampered and his hearing and lung
capacity reduced since his combat injury. (Tr. 248). Reed
alleged that he is unable to work due to physical problems
associated with his left shoulder, his reduced breathing, and
his back and because he suffers from PTSD. (Tr. 2741-48).
conducting a hearing on this matter, the ALJ made a
determination that Reed had not been under a disability
during the relevant time period, and thus, was not entitled
to benefits. (Tr. 15-41). The findings set forth by the ALJ
in her April 5, 2018 decision that are relevant to the claims
on appeal are set forth below.
for a Period of Disability and DIB requires that the claimant
be disabled. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(E). A claimant is
disabled if the claimant is unable “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 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The impairment
must be severe, making the claimant unable to do the
claimant’s previous work or any other substantial
gainful activity that exists in the national economy. 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505-11.
“Substantial gainful activity means work that …
[i]nvolves doing significant and productive physical or
mental duties [that] [i]s done (or intended) for pay or
profit.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1510.
Social Security cases, an ALJ utilizes a five-step sequential
evaluation in determining whether the claimant is disabled:
(1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe
impairment; (3) if so, whether the severe impairment meets or
equals an impairment in the Listing of Impairment in the
regulations; (4) if not, whether the claimant has the RFC to
perform her past relevant work; and (5) if not, whether, in
light of the claimant’s RFC, age, education and work
experience, there are other jobs the claimant can perform.
Watkins v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 457 Fed.Appx.
868, 870 (11th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), (c)-(f), 416.920(a)(4),
(c)(f); Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237
(11th Cir. 2004)) (footnote omitted). The claimant
bears the burden of proving the first four steps, and if the
claimant does so, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
prove the fifth step. Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224,
1228 (11th Cir. 1999).
claimant appeals an unfavorable ALJ decision, the reviewing
court must determine whether the Commissioner’s
decision to deny benefits was “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) (citations omitted);
see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial
evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Winschel, 631 F.3d at
1178 (citations omitted). “In determining whether
substantial evidence exists, [the reviewing court] must view
the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable
as well as unfavorable to the [Commissioner’s]
decision.” Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131
(11th Cir. 1986). The reviewing court “may
not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or
substitute [its] judgment for that of the
[Commissioner].” Id. When a decision is
supported by substantial evidence, the reviewing court must
affirm “[e]ven if [the court] find[s] that the evidence
preponderates against the Secretary’s decision.”
MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053
(11th Cir. 1986).
forth above, Reed has asserted two grounds in support of his
argument that the Commissioner’s decision to deny him
benefits is in error: (1) the ALJ erred by failing to find
PTSD, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and degenerative
joint disease (DJD) in the right shoulder to be severe
impairments and (2) the ALJ’s Residual Functional
Capacity (RFC) determination was not supported by substantial
evidence. (Doc. 20 at pp. 1-2).
Whether ALJ’s Determination that PTSD, Depressive
Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, and Mild DJD Were Not Severe
Impairments Was in Error
contends that the ALJ erred in failing to find that his PTSD,
depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and mild DJD in his
right shoulder are severe impairments as defined by the
applicable social security regulations. (Doc. 20 at pp. 2-5).
The ALJ did analyze these impairments and determined that
they were non-severe impairments. (Tr. 18.) The Commissioner
argues that the issue of whether these impairments were
properly classified is not relevant here because the ALJ did
find that Reed had other severe impairments at step two and,
thus, continued on with the sequential evaluation process.
(Doc. 22 at p. 3). The Commissioner further asserts that, in
assessing Reed’s RFC, the ALJ properly considered the
limitations established ...