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Johnson v. Colvin

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

January 26, 2015

BRIAN THOMAS JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

BRIAN K. EPPS, Magistrate Judge.

Brian Thomas Johnson ("Plaintiff") appeals the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act. Upon consideration of the briefs, 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.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff applied for SSI on September 25, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of August 20, 2011. Tr. ("R."), pp. 125-27. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's applications initially and on reconsideration. R. 64-67, 75-78. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), R. at 79-80, and the ALJ held a hearing on August 6, 2012, R. at 25-59. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and Dr. Daniel C. Lustig, a Vocational Expert ("VE"). Id . On September 14, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. at 9-20.

Applying the five-step sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. § 416.920, the ALJ found:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 25, 2011, the application date (20 C.F.R. § 416.971 et seq. ).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: right foot tansmetatarsal amputations, wrist fracture, and lower extremity bilateral and right upper extremity burns (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 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a).[1] In particular, the claimant can lift or carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He can stand or walk for approximately 6 hours of an 8-hour work day and sit for approximately 6 hours of an 8-hour workday with normal breaks. Additionally, the claimant can frequent[ly] climb ramps and stars; frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crawl; the claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds; he can occasional[ly] use the right hand in pushing or pulling; only occasional[ly] use foot controls; only occasional[ly] use gross manipulative or handling abilities; H[e] cannot use fine manipulative abilities for anything smaller than a paper clip; and, he needs to avoid hazards such as machinery and motor vehicles as part of job duties. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565 and 416.965).
5. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform, such as information clerk, insurance clerk, and surveillance-system monitor (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.969 and 416.969(a)). The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since September 25, 2011, the date the application was filed (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)).

R. 14-20.

When the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, R. 1-3, 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. Plaintiff argues the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because: (1) the RFC determination is internally inconsistent; (2) the ALJ failed to discuss the opinion of consultative examiner Dr. John Whitley limiting Plaintiff to simple work-related tasks; (3) the ALJ did not properly assess Plaintiff's credibility; and (4) the ALJ posed a hypothetical question with limitations different from his RFC determination. (See doc. no. 13 ("Pl's Br."), pp. 6-16.) The Commissioner maintains that the decision to deny Plaintiff benefits was supported by substantial evidence and should therefore be affirmed. (See doc. no. 14 ("Comm'r's Br.").)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

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, 390 (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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