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Sprang v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

January 9, 2018

ERIC SPRANG, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          FINAL REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON AN APPEAL FROM A SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY ACTION

          JUSTIN ANAND, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Eric Sprang (“Plaintiff” or “Claimant”) is a 31-year-old male seeking Social Security Disability Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act (“the Act”). Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner” or “Defendant”), [1] which issued a partially favorable decision, denying Plaintiff's claim for benefits prior to January 1, 2013, but finding that Plaintiff became disabled on that date. Plaintiff alleges disability and entitlement to benefits on the basis of the severe impairments of Crohn's disease, anxiety, depression, personality disorder, history of substance abuse and kidney stones.

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI on January 16, 2013, alleging an onset date of disability of December 1, 2000. Record (hereinafter “R.”) at 250-57. Since then, Plaintiff amended the alleged onset date once, to June 1, 2011. R. at 275. After the Commissioner's staff initially denied the applications, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), and ALJ Jeffrey W. Kohlman held a hearing on November 10, 2014. R. at 76-109. On January 6, 2015, ALJ Kohlman found that Plaintiff has “was not disabled ” as defined by the Act “prior to January 1, 2013, but became disabled on that date and has continued to be disabled” through the date of the decision. R. at 65. On May 25, 2016, the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's Request for Review, making the ALJ's decision final. R. at 8-14. Plaintiff then filed this action on September 15, 2016. It is now before the undersigned and is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons set forth below, based on the administrative record and the briefs of the parties, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the final decision of the Commissioner be REVERSED and REMANDED.

         I. STANDARD FOR DETERMINING DISABILITY

         An individual is “disabled” for purposes of disability benefits if he or she is unable to “engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Any impairments must result from anatomical, psychological, or physiological abnormalities demonstrated by medically accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques, and must prevent the claimant from substantial gainful work. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)-(3).

         Claimant and the Commissioner share the burden of proof. Claimant bears the initial burden of establishing a “disability” by demonstrating that he cannot perform his former type of work. Once Claimant has met this burden, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that, considering the claimant's age, education, work experience and impairment, the claimant can perform other jobs. Claimant bears the ultimate burden to prove that he cannot engage in any substantial gainful activity. Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001).

         The Commissioner must use a five-step sequential analysis:

(1) Is Claimant currently working? If so, the claim is denied.
(2) Is the claimed impairment severe; that is, does the impairment or combination of impairments significantly limit the individual's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities? If not, the claim is denied.
(3) Does the impairment equal or exceed in severity certain impairments described in the impairment listings in the regulations? If so, Claimant is automatically entitled to disability benefits.
(4) Does Claimant have sufficient residual functional capacity to perform past work? If so, the claim is denied.
(5) Considering Claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, can Claimant perform any other gainful and substantial work? If so, the claim is denied.

See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520-404.1576.

         In this case, the Commissioner, adopting the findings of the ALJ, made the decision to deny deny disability benefits at Step 5, finding that, although the Claimant has no past relevant work, prior to January 1, 2013, he retained the residual functional capacity that allowed him to perform certain light jobs that were available in significant numbers in the nationwide economy.

         II. FINDINGS OF THE ALJ

         The ALJ made the following findings of fact (“FOF”):

(1) The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended alleged onset date of June 1, 2011.
(3) Since the amended alleged onset date of disability, June 1, 2011, the claimant has had the following severe impairments: Crohn's disease, anxiety, depression, personality disorder, ...

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