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Wood v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

January 18, 2018

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

         Social Security Appeal


          Charles H. Weigle United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is Plaintiff George Wood's complaint for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Because the Appeals Council properly declined to review the new records Plaintiff submitted, and because the ALJ's residual function capacity (“RFC”) finding is supported by substantial evidence, it is RECOMMENDED that the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED.

         Plaintiff protectively filed his application on December 9, 2011, alleging an initial onset date of February 16, 2010. (R. 161-62). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing before the ALJ. (R. 82-84, 89-91). Following the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Plaintiff's application on June 24, 2015. (R. 19-37). Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision and Plaintiff submitted additional evidence for the Appeals Council to review. (R. 15-16, 568-585). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the ALJ's opinion. (R. 1-7). Accordingly, Plaintiff's claim is now ripe before this Court.


         Judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is limited to a determination of whether that decision is supported by substantial evidence, as well as whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). “Substantial evidence” is defined as “more than a scintilla, ” and as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. The Eleventh Circuit has explained that reviewing courts may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute their judgment for that of the Commissioner. Id. Rather, if the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, that decision must be affirmed even if the evidence preponderates against it.


         Social Security claimants are “disabled” if they are 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).

         The Social Security Regulations outline a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled: “(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified impairments in the Listing of impairments; (4) based on a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment, whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience.” Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v); 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v)).


         a. Factual Background and Medical Evidence

         Plaintiff was born in 1952 and graduated from high school. (R. 19, 190). Plaintiff had worked as a press operator since 1975, and continued to work, on a limited basis, as an operator at the time of the hearing. (R. 25, 45). Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Timothy Graves in March of 2009. Dr. Graves assessed that Plaintiff suffered from diabetes, hypertension, and joint pain. (R. 380). In July, Dr. Graves noted that Plaintiff's diabetes was doing well and that his blood sugar levels had improved. (R. 382). In November, Plaintiff's diabetes and hypertension were both noted to be controlled, but Plaintiff did complain of pain with his toes. (R. 384).

         Plaintiff complained of chest pain and shortness of breath in February of 2010, and underwent a coronary triple artery bypass grafting. (R. 306, 386). Dr. Graves noted in May of 2010 that Plaintiff was recovering well and that Plaintiff had no complaints of chest pain or edema. (R. 386). In November of 2010, Plaintiff complained that he had episodes of rapid heart rate and chest pain, although his diabetes and hypertension was under control. (R. 390). Plaintiff reported in January of 2011 that the palpitations were “currently resolved.” (R. 393).

         In March of 2011, and throughout 2011, Plaintiff complained of upper arm and shoulder pain, and in April of 2011, Dr. Graves diagnosed Plaintiff with bursitis. (R. 395-98, 401-02). Plaintiff still complained of shoulder pain in August of 2011, but Dr. Graves noted Plaintiff's cardiologist gave Plaintiff a “great report” and that Plaintiff's hyperlipidemia and hypertension were “doing well.” (R. 401). In ...

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