United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Waycross Division
RICHARD W. DANIELS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
STAN BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
contests the decision of Administrative Law Judge Morton J.
Gold, Jr., (“the ALJ” or “ALJ Gold”)
denying his claim for a period of disability, disability
insurance benefits, and supplemental security income
benefits. Plaintiff urges the Court to reverse the ALJ's
decision and award him benefits or, in the alternative, to
remand this case for a proper determination of the evidence.
Defendant asserts the Commissioner's decision should be
affirmed. For the reasons which follow, I RECOMMEND the Court
AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision. I also RECOMMEND that
the Court DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case.
filed an application for a period of disability, disability
insurance benefits, and supplemental security income benefits
on April 4, 2012, alleging that he became disabled on April
4, 2012, due to high blood pressure, back and heart problems,
and sleep apnea. (Doc. 9-3, p. 2.) After his claim was denied
initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff filed a timely
request for a hearing. On November 6, 2013, ALJ Gold
conducted a hearing at which Plaintiff, who was represented
by counsel, appeared and testified. Dr. Ron Spitznagle, a
vocational expert, also appeared at the hearing. ALJ Gold
found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of
the Social Security Act. (Doc. 9-2, p. 21.) The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the
ALJ's decision, and the decision of the ALJ became the
final decision of the Commissioner for judicial review.
(Id. at p. 2.)
born on October 24, 1963, was fifty (50) years old when ALJ
Gold issued his final decision. He has a limited ninth grade
education. (Id. at p. 29.) Plaintiff's past
relevant work experience includes employment as an electrical
to the Act, the Commissioner has established a five-step
process to determine whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520 & 416.920; Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). The first step
determines if the claimant is engaged in “substantial
gainful activity.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140.
If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity,
then benefits are immediately denied. Id. If the
claimant is not engaged in such activity, then the second
inquiry is whether the claimant has a medically severe
impairment or combination of impairments. Yuckert,
482 U.S. at 140-41. If the claimant's impairment or
combination of impairments is severe, then the evaluation
proceeds to step three. The third step requires a
determination of whether the claimant's impairment meets
or equals one of the impairments listed in the Code of
Federal Regulations and acknowledged by the Commissioner as
sufficiently severe to preclude substantial gainful activity.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d) & 416.920(d); 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P. App. 1; Phillips v.
Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1238 (11th Cir. 2004). If the
impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the
plaintiff is presumed disabled. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at
impairment does not meet or equal one of the listed
impairments, the sequential evaluation proceeds to the fourth
step to determine if the impairment precludes the claimant
from performing past relevant work, i.e., whether the
claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform his
past relevant work. Id.; Stone v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 503 F. App'x 692, 693 (11th Cir. 2013). A
claimant's residual functional capacity “is an
assessment . . . of the claimant's remaining ability to
do work despite his impairments.” Id. at
693-94 (ellipsis in original) (quoting Lewis v.
Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1440 (11th Cir. 1997)). If the
claimant is unable to perform his past relevant work, the
final step of the evaluation process determines whether he is
able to make adjustments to other work in the national
economy, considering his age, education, and work experience.
Phillips, 357 F.3d at 1239. Disability benefits will
be awarded only if the claimant is unable to perform other
work. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 142.
instant case, the ALJ followed this sequential process to
determine that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial
gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset
date of April 4, 2012, through the date of ALJ Gold's
decision on April 16, 2014. (Doc. 9-2, p. 23.) At Step Two,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had recurrent arrhythmias,
bilateral osteoarthritis of the knees, and degenerative disc
disease of the lumbrosacral spine exacerbated by obesity,
conditions considered “severe” under the
Regulations. However, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's
medically determinable impairments did not meet or medically
equal a listed impairment. (Id.) ALJ Gold also determined
Plaintiff suffers from hypertension and hyperlipidemia but
concluded these conditions were non-severe impairments.
(Id. at p. 24.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity, through the date of his
decision, to perform work at the light exertional level, with
the following exceptions: no climbing of ropes, ladders, or
scaffolds; standing or walking and pushing or pulling for six
hours in an eight-hour workday; lifting or carrying twenty
pounds occasionally (up to one-third of an eight-hour
workday) and ten pounds frequently (up to two-thirds of an
eight-hour workday); occasional climbing of ramps and stairs,
stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; and avoiding
concentrated exposure to extreme vibrations. (Id. at
pp. 25-26.) At the next step, ALJ Gold noted Plaintiff was
not able to perform his past relevant work as an electrical
helper. (Id. at p. 29.) The ALJ concluded at the
fifth and final step that Plaintiff could perform the jobs of
ticket taker, photocopy machine operator, and plastic
hospital product assembler, all of which are light, unskilled
jobs which exist in significant numbers in the national
economy. (Id. at p. 30.)
contends the ALJ erred by failing to properly take into
account that, at the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was
already fifty (50) years of age, which required the
application of different Rules and regulations. Plaintiff
also contends the ALJ failed to adequately discuss the fact
he is illiterate. In addition, Plaintiff asserts the
ALJ's residual functional capacity finding for light work
should have been at the sedentary level, at best. Plaintiff
alleges ALJ Gold mischaracterized the vocational expert's
testimony. (Doc. 11, p. 1.)
Standard of Review
well-established that judicial review of social security
cases is limited to questions of whether the
Commissioner's factual findings are supported by
“substantial evidence, ” and whether the
Commissioner has applied appropriate legal standards.
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th
Cir. 1991); Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529
(11th Cir. 1990). A reviewing court does not “decide
facts anew, reweigh the evidence or substitute” its
judgment for that of the Commissioner. Dyer v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). Even if
the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's
factual findings, the court must affirm a decision supported
by substantial evidence. Id.
substantial evidence must do more than create a suspicion of
the existence of the fact to be proved. The evidence relied
upon must be relevant evidence which a reasonable mind would
find adequate to support a conclusion. Ingram v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1260
(11th Cir. 2007). The substantial evidence standard requires
more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance of
evidence. Dyer, 395 F.3d at 1210. In its review, the
court must also determine whether the ALJ or Commissioner
applied appropriate legal standards. Failure ...