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Kinard v. Social Security Administration, Commissioner

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

October 11, 2019




         Plaintiff, Juan Derek Kinard, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff timely pursued and exhausted his administrative remedies, and the decision of the Commissioner is ripe for review. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.


         Plaintiff was thirty-eight years old at the time of the unfavorable decision issued by the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ”). (See R. 27, 37). Plaintiff speaks English and has less than a high school education; he was placed in special education classes until he dropped out of school in the eleventh grade. (R. 36). Plaintiff has prior work experience as a packer and construction laborer. (R. 46). Plaintiff filed the instant application on May 5, 2015, alleging a disability onset of August 1, 2013, due to back pain, knee pain, and mental conditions. (R. 34, 185). Plaintiff's date last insured was March 31, 2014. (R. 21, 34).

         Plaintiff's application followed his March 18, 2015 release from the psychiatric unit of Mountain View Hospital. (R. 361). Plaintiff was admitted there on March 3, 2015, exhibiting anger and anxiety and reporting visual and auditory hallucinations. (Id.). Plaintiff was diagnosed with depressive disorder and adjustment disorder with disturbance of emotions and conduct. (R. 363). Plaintiff was not taking medications at the time of his admission, but medications administered during his hospitalization stabilized his mood and improved his condition. (R. 361-63). At discharge, Plaintiff was stable, cognitively intact, and had a good prognosis. (R. 363).

         Plaintiff's 2015 hospitalization was preceded by a 2014 hospitalization in the psychiatric unit of Gadsden Regional Medical Center, where he was admitted for worsening agitated behavior. (R. 333). Plaintiff reported mild to moderate paranoia, anxiety, and mood swings. (R. 335). Plaintiff was diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder, mood disorder, and personality disorder. (R. 336). Plaintiff was discharged in stable condition after six days, when it was determined he had received maximum benefit from hospitalization. (R. 333).

         When evaluating the disability of individuals over the age of eighteen, the regulations prescribe a five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001). The first step requires a determination whether the claimant is performing substantial gainful activity ("SGA"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is engaged in SGA, he or she is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant is not engaged in SGA, the Commissioner proceeds to consider the combined effects of all the claimant's physical and mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). These impairments must be severe and must meet durational requirements before a claimant will be found disabled. Id. The decision depends on the medical evidence in the record. See Hart v. Finch, 440 F.2d 1340, 1341 (5th Cir. 1971). If the claimant's impairments are not severe, the analysis stops. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Otherwise, the analysis continues to step three, at which the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments meet the severity of an impairment listed 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 impairments fall within this category, the claimant will be found disabled without further consideration. Id. If the impairments do not fall within the listings, the Commissioner determines the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).

         At step four the Commissioner determines whether the impairments prevent the claimant from returning to past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant is capable of performing past relevant work, he or she is not disabled and the evaluation stops. Id. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to the fifth step, at which the Commissioner considers the claimant's RFC, as well as the claimant's age, education, and past work experience, to determine whether he or she can perform other work. Id.; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can do other work, he or she is not disabled. Id.

         Applying the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in SGA since his application date. (R. 21). At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: (1) schizophrenia; (2) personality disorder; (3) depression; and (4) substance abuse. (Id.).

         At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling any of the listed impairments. (R. 21-22). Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform the full range of work at all exertional levels but could not be exposed to hazardous machinery. (R. 23). Additionally, the ALJ found Plaintiff's RFC was subject to the following non-exertional limitations: (1) he could remember short, simple instructions, but not detailed or complex instructions; (2) he could perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks, but not detailed or complex tasks; (3) he could have no more than occasional contact with the general public and co-workers; (4) he could adapt to occasional changes in the work place, so long as they were well-explained and introduced gradually; (5) he could “perform jobs primarily dealing with things, not people”; and (6) he could not read instructions, write reports, or perform math calculations. (Id.).

         At step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a construction laborer. (R. 27). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded the Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.).


         A court's role in reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act is a narrow one. The scope of its review is limited to determining (1) whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the findings of the Commissioner, and (2) whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Stone v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 544 Fed.Appx. 839, 841 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004)). A court gives deference to the factual findings of the Commissioner, provided those findings are supported by substantial evidence but applies close scrutiny to the legal conclusions. See Miles v. Chater, 84 F.3d 1397, 1400 (11th Cir. 1996).

         Nonetheless, a court may not decide facts, weigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n.8 (11th Cir. 2004)). “The substantial evidence standard permits administrative decision makers to act with considerable latitude, and ‘the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence.'” Parker v. Bowen, 793 F.2d 1177, 1181 (11th Cir. 1986) (Gibson, J., dissenting) (quoting Consolo v. Fed. Mar. Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966)). Indeed, even if a court finds that the proof preponderates ...

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