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Christian v. Social Security Administration

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

October 9, 2019

ANGELA H. CHRISTIAN, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Commissioner, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          STACI G. CORNELIUS, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Angela H. Christian, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Christian timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies, and the Commissioner's decision is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is due to be reversed and remanded.

         I. Procedural History

         Christian has a high school education and has previously been employed as a certified nursing assistant, home health aide, and teacher aide. (Tr. at 122, 419-25). In her applications for DIB and SSI, Christian alleged she became disabled on August 22, 2014, due to a variety of impairments. (Id. at 117). After her claims were denied initially and on reconsideration, Christian requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Id.). Following a hearing, the ALJ denied Christian's claims. (Id. at 117-24). Christian was forty-seven years old when the ALJ issued the decision. (Id. at 122, 124). After the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision (id. at 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)). Thereafter, Christian 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. §§ 416(i)(1)(A), 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). Furthermore, a claimant must show she was disabled between her alleged initial onset date and her date last insured. Mason v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 430 Fed.Appx. 830, 831 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1209, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005); Demandre v. Califano, 591 F.2d 1088, 1090 (5th Cir. 1979)). The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) employs a five-step sequential analysis to determine an individual's eligibility for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).

         First, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” Id. at §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 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 §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i) and (b), 416.920(a)(4)(i) and (b). At the first step, the ALJ determined Christian would meet the SSA's insured status requirements through June 30, 2017, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 22, 2014. (Tr. at 119).

         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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 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 §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii) and (c), 416.920(a)(4)(ii) and (c). At the second step, the ALJ determined Christian has the following severe impairments: diabetes with peripheral neuropathy, degenerative joint disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, seizure disorder, and bladder dysfunction. (Tr. at 119). The ALJ determined Christian's diagnoses of depression and human immunodeficiency virus infection (“HIV”) constitute non-severe impairments. (Id. at 120).

         If the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the Commissioner must then determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals one of the “Listings” found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals one of the Listings, the Commissioner will find the claimant is disabled. Id. at §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) and (d), 416.920(a)(4)(iii) and (d). At the third step, the ALJ determined Christian does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the Listings. (Tr. at 120).

         If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments 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). 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 §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv) and (e), 416.920(a)(4)(iv) and (e). If the claimant is capable of performing her past relevant work, the Commissioner will find the claimant is not disabled. Id. at §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv).

         Before proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ determined Christian has the RFC to perform a limited range of sedentary work. (Tr. at 120-21). At the fourth step, the ALJ determined Christian is not able to perform her past relevant work. (Id. at 122).

         If the claimant is unable to perform her past relevant work, the Commissioner must finally determine whether the claimant is capable of performing other 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1), 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 §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1), 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 §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1), 416.920(a)(4)(v) and (g)(1).

         At the fifth step, considering Christian's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Christian could perform through her date last insured, such as those of ticket counter, order clerk, and information clerk. (Tr. at 123). Therefore, the ALJ concluded Christian is not disabled. (Id. at 124).

         III. Stan ...


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