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Hendrix v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner

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

September 30, 2019

JESSICA COREN HENDRIX, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Commissioner, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          STACI G. CORNELIUS, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Jessica Coren Hendrix, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Hendrix timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies, and the Commissioner’s decision is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1383(c)(3). For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner’s decision is due to be reversed and remanded.

         I. Procedural History

         Hendrix has a high school education and no past relevant work. (Tr. at 26, 154). In her application for SSI, Hendrix alleged she became disabled on September 1, 2012, due to high blood pressure, depression, seizures, a neurological disorder, and swollen and enlarged blood vessels fused together on the right side of her brain. (Id. at 51). Hendrix later amended the onset date of her disability to March 16, 2015. (Id. at 139). After her claim was denied, Hendrix requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at 69). Following a hearing, the ALJ denied Hendrix’s claim. (Id. at 22-27). Hendrix was twenty-one years old when the ALJ issued her decision. (Id. at 27, 51). After the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ’s decision (id. at 1-3), 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)). Thereafter, Hendrix commenced this action. (Doc. 1).

         II. Statutory and Regulatory Framework

         To establish 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a). The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) employs a five-step sequential analysis to determine an individual’s eligibility for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).

         First, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” Id. at § 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner will find the claimant is not disabled. Id. at § 416.920(a)(4)(i) and (b). At the first step, the ALJ determined Hendrix has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 16, 2015, the date corresponding to the alleged onset of her disability and the submission of her application for SSI. (Tr. at 24).

         If the 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). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the Commissioner will find the claimant is not disabled. Id. at § 416.920(a)(4)(ii) and (c). At the second step, the ALJ determined Hendrix has the following severe impairments: hypertension, seizure disorder and migraines without aura due to a subdural hematoma, and drug-induced rebound headaches. (Tr. at 24).[2]

         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). If the claimant’s impairment meets or equals one of the Listings, the Commissioner will find the claimant is disabled. Id. at § 416.920(a)(4)(iii) and (d). At the third step, the ALJ determined Hendrix does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the Listings. (Tr. at 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). At the fourth step, the Commissioner will compare an assessment of the claimant’s RFC with the physical and mental demands of the claimant’s past relevant work. Id. at § 416.920(a)(4)(iv) and (e). If the claimant is capable of performing his or her past relevant work, the Commissioner will find the claimant is not disabled. Id. at § 416.920(a)(4)(iv).

         Before proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ determined Hendrix has the RFC to perform light work with the following limitations: she can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, bend, stoop, kneel, crouch, balance, and crawl; she can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she can have only occasional exposure to fumes, odors, dust, poor ventilation, extreme heat, extreme cold, and vibrations; and she can have no exposure to hazardous machinery or unprotected heights. (Tr. at 25). At the fourth step, the ALJ determined Hendrix has no past relevant work. (Id. at 26).

         If the claimant is unable to perform his or her past relevant work – or, as in this case, has no past relevant work – the Commissioner must finally determine whether the claimant is capable of performing work that exists in substantial numbers in the national economy in light of the claimant’s RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1). If the claimant is capable of performing other work, the Commissioner will find the claimant is not disabled. Id. at § 416.920(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1). If the claimant is not capable of performing other work, the Commissioner will find the claimant is disabled. Id. at § 416.920(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1).

         At the fifth step, considering Hendrix’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Hendrix can perform, such as those of counter attendant, concession attendant, and information clerk. (Tr. at 26-27). Therefore, the ALJ concluded Hendrix is not disabled. (Id. at 27).

         III. Stan ...


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