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Kitchen v. Berryhill

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

March 7, 2018

LINDA KITCHEN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER and MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          R. STAN BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff contests the decision of Administrative Law Judge John H. Maclean (“the ALJ” or “ALJ Maclean”) denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance and for Supplemental Security Income. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff urges the Court to reverse the ALJ's decision and award her benefits, or in the alternative, remand this case for a proper determination of the evidence. Defendant asserts the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed. (Doc. 7.) For the reasons which follow, I RECOMMEND the Court AFFIRM the decision of the Commissioner. I also RECOMMEND that the Court DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case and enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 3, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and Supplemental Security Income, alleging disability beginning February 21, 2013. (Doc. 8-6, p. 6.) After her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. On April 9, 2015, ALJ Maclean conducted a video hearing at which Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified in Waycross, Georgia, while the ALJ presided in Savannah, Georgia. Kim E. Bennett, a vocational expert, also appeared at the hearing. (Id.) ALJ Maclean found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 301 et seq. (the “Act”). 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. (Doc. 8-2, p. 2.)

         Plaintiff, born on September 4, 1969, was forty-five (45) years old when ALJ Maclean issued his final decision. She has a high school education. (Doc. 8-6, p. 12.) Plaintiff has relevant past work experience as a cashier, certified nursing assistant, egg packer, and meat packer. (Id.)

         DISCUSSION

         I. The ALJ's Findings

         Title II of the Act defines “disability” as the “inability 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 Act qualifies the definition of disability as follows:

An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if [her] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [s]he is not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy[.]

42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). Pursuant 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 as defined by the “severity regulation.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c); Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41. If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments is considered 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 (“the 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 141.

         If the impairment does not meet or equal one of the listed impairments, the sequential evaluation proceeds to the fourth step. At Step Four, a determination is made as to whether the impairment precludes the claimant from performing past relevant work, i.e., whether the claimant has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform past relevant work. Id.; Stone v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 503 F. App'x 692, 693 (11th Cir. 2013). A claimant's RFC “is an assessment . . . of the claimant's remaining ability to do work despite [her] 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 her past relevant work, the final step of the evaluation process determines whether she is able adjust to other work in the national economy, considering her 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.

         In the instant case, the ALJ followed this sequential process to determine that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 21, 2013, the alleged onset date. (Doc. 8-6, p. 8.) At Step Two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's anemia and depression were considered “severe” under the “severity regulation.” (Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(e)).) At the next step, the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments met or medically equaled a listed impairment under the Regulations. (Id. at pp. 9-10.)

         ALJ Maclean found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). (Id. at p. 10.) Plaintiff would not be capable of work with a Specific Vocational Preparation (“SVP”) code greater than 2, and should only be involved in simple and routine work with few changes. (Id.) The ALJ also limited Plaintiff from working in extreme cold, around hazardous machinery and heights, and to avoid climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. (Id.) The ALJ found Plaintiff capable of working around the public, supervisors, and co-workers on an occasional basis, and could stoop, crawl, crouch, and kneel occasionally. (Id.)

         At Step Four, ALJ Maclean found Plaintiff unable to perform her past relevant work as a cashier, certified nurse assistant, egg packer, or meat packer. (Id. at p. 12.) However, the ALJ concluded at the fifth and final step that Plaintiff could perform the jobs of housekeeping cleaner, mail clerk, and addresser, all of which are jobs ...


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