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Embry v. Social Security Administration

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

November 1, 2019

STACY EMBRY, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Commissioner, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          STACI G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Stacy Embry, 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”). Embry 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

         Embry completed the ninth grade and later obtained her GED. (Tr. at 391). She has previously been employed as an office helper, a pizza delivery driver, a telephone operator, and a waitress. (Id. at 25, 38-40, 189-90). In her applications for DIB and SSI, Embry alleged she became disabled on January 1, 2014, due to multiple strokes. (Id. at 78, 92). She later amended the alleged onset date of her disability to June 28, 2015. (Id. at 18). After her claims were denied, Embry requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at 124). Following a hearing, the ALJ denied Embry's claims. (Id. at 18-27). Embry was forty-three years old when the ALJ issued his decision. (Id. at 26-27). 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, Embry 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 Embry met the SSA's insured status requirements through September 30, 2016, and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 28, 2015. (Tr. at 20).

         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 Embry has the following severe impairments: (1) residual effects of multiple cerebral vascular accidents and (2) neurocognitive disorder. (Id. at 20).

         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 Embry 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 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 Embry has the RFC to perform a limited range of light work. (Tr. at 22-23).[2] At the fourth step, the ALJ determined Embry is not able to perform her past relevant work. (Id. at 25).

         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 Embry's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Embry can perform, such as those of marker, cleaner, and power screwdriver operator. (Tr. at 26). Therefore, the ALJ concluded Embry is not disabled. (Id. at 27).

         III. Stan ...


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