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Lovell v. Social Security Administration

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

October 21, 2019

TROY LOVELL, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Commissioner, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          STACI G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The plaintiff, Troy Lovell, appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Lovell timely pursued and exhausted his 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 affirmed.

         I. Procedural History

         Lovell has a tenth-grade education and previously worked as a construction worker. (Tr. at 26, 164). In his application for SSI, Lovell alleged he became disabled on July 1, 2015, due to rheumatoid arthritis, weakness and numbness in both hands, and “bad nerves.” (Id. at 163). Lovell later amended the alleged onset date of his disability to April 8, 2016. (Id. at 19). After his claim was denied, Lovell requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Id.). Following a hearing, the ALJ denied Lovell's claim. (Id. at 19-28). Lovell was fifty-four years old when the ALJ issued his decision. (Id. at 27, 28). 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, Lovell 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 Lovell has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 8, 2016. (Tr. at 21).

         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 Lovell has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder. (Tr. at 21).

         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 Lovell does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the Listings. (Tr. at 21).

         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 Lovell has the RFC to perform a limited range of medium work. (Tr. at 23).[2] At the fourth step, the ALJ determined Lovell is not able to perform his past relevant work. (Id. at 26).

         If the claimant is unable to perform his 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 Lovell's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Lovell can perform, such as those of dish washer, janitor, and hand packager. (Tr. at 27). Therefore, the ALJ concluded Lovell is not disabled. (Id. at 28).

         III. Stan ...


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