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Roberts v. Colvin

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

January 19, 2017

JANICE D. ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

         Plaintiff Janice Roberts seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

         I. GOVERNING STANDARDS

         In social security cases, courts . . . review the Commissioner's decision for substantial evidence. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (quotation omitted). . . . "We may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the Commissioner." Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (quotation and brackets omitted). "If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, this Court must affirm, even if the proof preponderates against it." Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quotation omitted). Mitchell v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., Ill. F.3d 780, 782 (11th Cir. 2014).

         The burden of proving disability lies with the claimant. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005). The ALJ applies

... a five-step, "sequential" process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1). If an ALJ finds a claimant disabled or not disabled at any given step, the ALJ does not go on to the next step. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4). At the first step, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). At the second step, the ALJ must determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments for which the claimant allegedly suffers is "severe." Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(h). At the third step, the ALJ must decide whether the claimant's severe impairments meet or medically equal a listed impairment. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If not, the ALJ must then determine at step four whether the claimant has the RFC[1] to perform her past relevant work. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform her past relevant work, the ALJ must determine at step five whether the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, considering the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience. An ALJ may make this determination either by applying the Medical Vocational Guidelines or by obtaining the testimony of a [Vocational Expert (VE)].

Stone v. Comm'r. of Soc. Sec. Admin., 596 F.App'x, 878, 879 (11th Cir. 2015) (footnote added).

         II. BACKGROUND

         Roberts, who was 53 years old when her SSI claim was denied, alleges disability beginning October 7, 2009. Tr. 29, 50-54. She has a limited (7th grade) education and past work "helping for brick laying, " "off and on maid service, " and "various housekeeping jobs." Tr. 28, 93. She does not recall whether she attended special education classes, and reports a history of drug and alcohol abuse starting at age 13. Tr. 228-29. She had a 2007 verbal IQ score of 67, performance IQ score of 84, and full scale IQ score of 73 (tr. 230) and a 2014 verbal comprehension index score of 72, perceptual reasoning index score of 69, and full scale IQ score of 68 (tr. 375). See tr. 22-23.

         The ALJ ruled against her after a hearing. Tr. 6-8, 19-29. He found that Robert's borderline intellectual functioning, depression, anxiety, degenerative joint disease of the left knee, scoliosis, and hearing loss constituted severe impairments but did not meet or medically equal a Listing. Tr. 21-23. Based on the evidence of record, the ALJ found that she retained the RFC for light work, except that

she can stand and walk up to six of eight hours and sit up to six of eight hours with normal breaks. [She] can no more than occasionally stair and ramp climb and can never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds. [She] can no more than occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. [She] can no more than occasionally perform overhead work. [She] must avoid loud background noise and her work should be limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. Her work should involve only simple, work-related decisions with few, if any, workplace changes and she can have no more than occasional interaction with co-workers and supervision, and no public interaction.

Tr. 23-24.

         Plaintiff, he determined, had no past relevant work but could perform the requirements of work as an assembler, either light or sedentary exertion, and both with an SVP[2] of 2. Tr. 27-28. Hence, Roberts was not disabled. Tr. 45. She disagrees, arguing that the ALJ erred in his evaluation of her mental functioning. Docs. 24 & 27.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by finding her borderline intellectual functioning did not meet or equal ...


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