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Fluker v. Berryhill

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

November 13, 2019

ELZORA CARTER FLUKER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          LILES C. BURKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On May 22, 2018, the Plaintiff Elzora Fluker filed a complaint (Doc. 1) seeking judicial review of an adverse final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Commissioner filed an answer to the complaint on September 11, 2018. (Doc. 6). The Plaintiff filed a brief in support of her position on October 24, 2018, (Doc. 9) and the Commissioner filed a brief in support of the decision on November 27, 2018. (Doc. 11). Therefore, this issue is ripe for review. For the reasons stated below, the final decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Plaintiff protectively filed for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on May 13, 2015. (R. 15). She alleged that her disability began on April 13, 2015. Id. Her claim for benefits was denied on July 2, 2015, and the Plaintiff subsequently filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on July 30, 2015. Id. The Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Renee Blackmon Hagler through a video hearing on April 10, 2017. Id. The Plaintiff testified at the hearing and was questioned by her attorney and the ALJ. (R. 35, 46). Additionally, vocational expert Otis Pearson testified at the hearing. (R. 49). The ALJ issued her opinion on July 3, 2017. (R. 26). When she issued her opinion, the ALJ used the five-step evaluation process promulgated by the Social Security Administration to determine whether an individual is disabled. (R. 16). The ALJ made the following determinations:

1. The Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2019. (R. 17).
2. The Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 13, 2015, the alleged onset date of the disability. Id.
3. The Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: asthma, degenerative joint disease of the left ankle, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. Id.
4. The Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 21).
5. The Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a) except she can occasionally lift 10 pounds. The Plaintiff can: push and pull as much as she can carry; sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; stand for two hours and walk for two hours; operate foot controls bilaterally on no more than an occasional basis; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; and frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. The Plaintiff cannot: climb ladders; work at unprotected heights; work with dust, fumes, or pulmonary irritants; or work at extreme cold temperatures. (R. 22).
6. The Plaintiff can perform past relevant work as a county commissioner, a position consistent with Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) #188.117-114. (R. 25).
7. The Plaintiff has not been under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, from April 13, 2015 through the date of the ALJ's decision on July 3, 2017. Id.

         After the ALJ denied her claim, the Plaintiff requested an appeal to the Appeals Council and was denied on March 29, 2018. (R. 1). At that point, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Henry v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 802 F.3d 1264, 1267 (11th Cir. 2015). The Plaintiff filed this action on May 22, 2018. (Doc. 1).

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) is authorized to pay Supplemental Security Insurance (“SSI”) and disability insurance to claimants that have a disability. Washington v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 906 F.3d 1353, 1358 (11th Cir. 2018). Title II of the Social Security Act defines disability as “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 that has lasted or ...


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