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Grant v. Berryhill

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

March 6, 2018

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


          BRIAN K. EPPS, JUDGE

         Levar Grant appeals the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) 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, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Commissioner's final decision be REVERSED and the case be REMANDED to the Commissioner for further consideration in accordance with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB in December of 2013, alleging a disability onset date of November 18, 2013. Tr. (“R.”), pp. 69-71. Plaintiff's last insured date for purposes of the DIB application was December 31, 2017. R. 70. Plaintiff was thirty-four years old on his alleged disability onset date. Id. Plaintiff applied for benefits based on allegations of spinal cord injury, back injury, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and gastrointestinal problems. Id. Plaintiff has a tenth grade education, and prior to his alleged disability, Plaintiff had accrued relevant work history as a fiberglass machine operator, material handler, yarn texturing machine operator, poultry dresser, lumber grader, and stock clerk. R. 41, 63, 69.

         The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's applications initially, R. 91-94, and on reconsideration, R. 96-99. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), R. 104-05, and the ALJ held a hearing on January 8, 2016. R. 48-68. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, as well as from Larry L. Shedd, a Vocational Expert (“VE”). Id. On January 13, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. 36-43.

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

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 18, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; hypertension; and diabetes (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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, and 404.1526).
4. The claimant has the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), [1] except he can frequently climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; can occasionally stoop; and must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards such as machinery, heights, and similar circumstances. Thus, the claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a lumber grader. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's RFC (20 C.F.R. § 404.1565).

R. 38-43.

         Because the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work, the sequential evaluation process stopped, and the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 18, 2013, through the date of the decision, January 13, 2016. R. 43. When the Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for review, R. 7-13, 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.


         Judicial review of social security cases is narrow and limited to the following questions: (1) whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997). When considering whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the reviewing court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005); Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991). Notwithstanding this measure of deference, the Court remains ...

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