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Swank v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Dublin Division

January 22, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


BRIAN K. EPPS, Magistrate Judge.

Harold Edward Swank appeals the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Supplement Security Income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act. Upon consideration of the briefs submitted by both parties, the record evidence, and the relevant statutory and case law, the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS that the Commissioner's final decision be AFFIRMED, that this civil action be CLOSED, and that a final judgment be ENTERED in favor of the Commissioner.


Plaintiff applied for SSI on January 5, 2007, alleging a disability onset date of September 24, 2006. Tr. ("R"), pp. 25, 290. The Social Security Administration denied the application initially and on reconsideration. R. at 130-33, 137-39. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), R. at 141, which was held on July 28, 2009. R. at 117. Id. On September 2, 2009, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. at 120-25. Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision, which the Appeals Council granted on December 8, 2010 and remanded for a new decision. R. at 128-29. During the second hearing on May 30, 2012, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and from Dr. Ron Spitznagel, a Vocational Expert ("VE"). R. at 49-84. On June 22, 2012, the ALJ issued a second unfavorable decision.

Applying the five-step sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, the ALJ found:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 5, 2007, the application date (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1571 et seq. ).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: depression and testicular hernia (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c)).
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b)[1] except he is an individual whose left scrotal hernia limits him to performing medium exertional work activities. He can individually sit, stand, walk, push and/or pull for at least six of eight hours each eight-hour workday. He can lift/carry 50 pounds occasionally (up to 1/3 of an eight-hour workday) and 25 pounds frequently (up to 2/3 of an eight-hour workday). His depression limits him to performing work activities with a specific vocational preparation of 1-3. While his concentration may drift for up to 1/3 of an eight-hour workday if the work is repetitive, routine, or boring; he can pay enough attention to details to meet the general productivity requirements of the job(s) within the same workday. Even though his pace might be disrupted once or twice a week, he will still be able to perform assigned tasks by the end of the same workday. His social interaction with the public and coworkers should be limited to no more than 1/3 of an eight-hour workday although he can work in close proximity with them throughout the entire workday. He is better off working with objects rather than people. He should avoid constantly changing or fluid work environments. (20 C.F.R. § 416.965).
5. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR §§ 416.969 and 416.969(a)).

R. 25-34.

When the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 20, 2013, R. 5-7, the Commissioner's decision became "final" for the purpose of judicial review. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff then filed this civil action requesting reversal or remand of that adverse decision. Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because (1) the ALJ improperly discounted the opinion of the treating physician as being based on subjective complaints and (2) the ALJ accorded too much weight to the consulting experts. (See generally doc. no. 14 ("Pl.'s Br.").) The Commissioner maintains that the decision to deny Plaintiff's application is supported by substantial evidence and should therefore be affirmed. (See doc. no. 17 ("Comm'r's Br.").)


Judicial review of social security cases is narrow and limited to the following questions: (1) whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991); and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). When considering whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the reviewing court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's. Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145. Notwithstanding this measure of deference, the Court remains obligated ...

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