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Worthy v. Berryhill

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

December 5, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Vernon Worthy appeals the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Social Security Insurance (“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 the Commissioner's final decision be AFFIRMED, this civil action be CLOSED, and a final judgment be ENTERED in favor of the Commissioner.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff protectively filed for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI on February 29, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of January 14, 2012. Tr. (“R.”), pp. 195-206, 225-236. Plaintiff was fifty-one years old on his original alleged disability onset date and was fifty-four years old at the time the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued the decision under consideration. R. 29, 225. Plaintiff initially applied for benefits based on allegations of the following conditions: chronic back pain, depression, and chronic pain and loss of mobility in left knee. R. 229. Plaintiff completed high school, and prior to his alleged disability, Plaintiff had accrued a relevant work history as a boot camp drill instructor and construction laborer. R. 65-66, 230.

         The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's applications initially and on reconsideration. R. 90-123. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, R. 152-54, and the ALJ held a hearing on June 16, 2015. R. 37-72. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, as well as from Otis Pierson, a Vocational Expert. Id. During the hearing, Plaintiff's counsel suggested Plaintiff could forgo his DIB claim and amend his alleged onset date to the date of the hearing, which the ALJ stated he would take under advisement. R. 69-70. On July 17, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. 12-29.

         Applying the sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920, the ALJ found:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 14, 2012, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq. and 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse. (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 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. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. The claimant has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), [1] except he cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; he cannot constantly climb stairs; he must work in a climate-controlled environment where he is not exposed to excessive dust, fumes, gases, odors, or other atmospheric pollutants, nor can he be exposed to the extremes of temperature and humidity; he cannot work at heights or around hazardous machinery; he cannot operate automotive equipment; and he is limited to the simple, routine tasks of unskilled work that does not require any public contact and only occasional contact with coworkers or supervisors. Thus, 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 jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform, including mail clerk, office helper, and garment folder (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)). Therefore, the claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 14, 2012, through July 17, 2015 (the date of the ALJ's decision) (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

R. 14-29.

         When the Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for review, R. 1-7, 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 the ALJ should have accepted the hearing date as the amended onset date, and under that new onset date, the ALJ failed to properly evaluate whether the Grid Rule for advanced age should be applied. See doc. no. 8 (“Pl.'s Br.”). The Commissioner maintains the ALJ properly used the original onset date and the determination of whether Plaintiff was a person of advanced age was not necessary to his case; thus, the decision should be affirmed. See doc. no. 9 (“Comm'r's Br.”).

         II. ...

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