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Grant v. Berryhill

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

March 30, 2018

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



         Peggy Michelle Grant appeals the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security denying her 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), that the Commissioner's final decision be REVERSED and that the case be REMANDED to the Commissioner for further consideration in accordance with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB on June 14, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of April 14, 2013. Tr. ("R"), PP- 178. Plaintiff was thirty-eight years old at her alleged disability onset date and was forty-one years old at the time the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued the decision currently under consideration. R. 38. Plaintiff graduated from high school and attended vocational-technical school for two years. R. 55. Prior to her alleged onset date, Plaintiff worked for approximately fourteen years as a respiratory therapist. R. 36, 225. Plaintiff applied for disability based on a left arm amputation, as well as allegations of back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, pain spasms on stub, depression, anxiety, and dental pain. R. 57-58, 60-61, 224.

         The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiffs application initially and on reconsideration. R. 64-65. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an ALJ, R. 98-101, and an ALJ convened a hearing on May 6, 2015. R. 44-50. That hearing was adjourned to allow Plaintiff to obtain representation. R. 47. A different ALJ held a hearing on October 1, 2015. R. 51-63. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and Kim Bennett, a Vocational Expert. Li On October 30, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. 24-43.

         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 April 14, 2013, the alleged onset date. (20 C.F.R. § 404.1571 etseq).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: amputated left arm, obesity, PTSD, depression, and anxiety. (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 residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) except she can walk/stand six hours in an eight-hour workday.[1] She can only lift up to 10 pounds frequently with the right hand. She is best suited performing SVP 3 level, semi-skilled work. She should not require use of the non-dominant left arm. She can frequently climb ramps and stairs but not ropes, ladders, or scaffolds. She should not work around hazardous machinery or unprotected heights. She can frequently crawl, crouch, stoop, kneel, balance, but not crawl, [sic] She can have occasional face-to-face interaction with the public but frequent interaction with co-workers and supervisors. She should not perform fast pace work like assembly line, conveyor belt, or fast food. Thus, the claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work. (20 C.F.R. § 404.1565).
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, (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569 and 404.1569(a)), including surveillance system monitor and call out operator. Therefore, the claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from April 14, 2013, the alleged onset date, through October 30, 2015 (the date of the ALJ's decision). (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)).

R. 29-38.

         When the Appeals Council ("AC") denied Plaintiffs request for review, R. 1-5, 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 that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ (1) failed to properly consider the medical opinion evidence in the record when formulating Plaintiffs RFC; and (2) improperly evaluated Plaintiff's credibility. (See doc. no. 14 ("PL's Br."); doc. no. 16 ("Reply Br.").) The Commissioner maintains the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff has an RFC for sedentary work is supported by substantial evidence. (See doc, no. 15 ("Comm'r's Br.").)

         II. ...

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