United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
K. EPPS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Heard appeals the partially favorable decision of the Deputy
Commissioner for Operations on her applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under the
Social Security Act. Upon consideration of the briefs, 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
applied for DIB on August 15, 2013, and protectively filed
for SSI on that same date, alleging a disability onset date
for both applications of July 20, 2013. Tr.
(“R.”), pp. 18, 229, 236. For purposes of DIB,
Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act on December 31, 2014. R. 20, 243.
Although Plaintiff was forty-eight years old at the time she
applied for benefits, she was fifty-one years old on the date
of the administrative hearing and at the time the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ') issued the
decision currently under consideration. R. 32, 39, 43.
Plaintiff applied for disability benefits based on a
combination of alleged impairments, including degenerative
disc disease, depression, pre diabetes, spondylosis, and
nerve damage in her back. R. 264. Plaintiff completed high
school, and prior to her alleged disability, Plaintiff
accrued twenty-nine years of work experience as a
housekeeper, cook, and short-order cook. R. 44-47, 56, 265.
Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's
applications initially and on reconsideration. R. 96-97,
140-41. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an ALJ, R.
162-63, and the ALJ held a hearing on August 16, 2016. R.
39-59. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from
Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and from Mark
Anderson, a Vocational Expert (“VE”).
Id. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August
31, 2016. R. 14-38.
the sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520 and 416.920, the ALJ found:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since her alleged onset date of July 20, 2013,
through her date last insured (“DLI”) of December
31, 2014, and through the date of the administrative
decision. (C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq. and 416.971
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments since
July 20, 2013: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine,
degenerative joint disease of the bilateral knees, anxiety,
depression, and obesity (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c)
3. Since July 20, 2013, the claimant has not had 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, 404.1526,
416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. Since July 20, 2013, the claimant has the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary
as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a) except the claimant (1) can occasionally climb
stairs and ramps; (2) can never climb ladders and scaffolds;
(3) can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl;
(4) must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards such as
unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts; (5) must
avoid concentrated exposure to industrial types of vibration;
and (6) must have access to plumbed restroom facilities.
Further the claimant can (1) understand, remember, and carry
out simple instructions; (2) have occasional interaction with
supervisors, coworkers and the public; (3) only make simple,
work-related decisions; and (4) only tolerate occasional
change in work location. Thus, since July 20, 2013, the
claimant has been unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565 and 416.965).
5. Prior to the established disability onset date, the
claimant was a younger individual age 45-49. On June 6, 2015,
the claimant's age category changed to an individual
closely approaching advanced age (20 C.F.R. §§
404.1563 and 416.964). Prior to the date the claimant's age
category changed to closely approaching advanced age,
considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, there were jobs that existed in
significant No. in the national economy that the claimant
could have performed, (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569,
404.1569a, 416.969, and 416.969a), including patcher,
touch-up screener, and table worker. On the date the
claimant's age category changed to closely approaching
advanced age, considering the claimant's age, education,
work experience, and RFC, there are no jobs that exist in
significant No. in the national economy that the claimant
could perform (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1560(c), 404.1566,
416.960(c), and 416.966). Therefore, the claimant was not
disabled prior to June 6, 2015, including at any time through
her date last insured of December 31, 2104, but she became
disabled on June 6, 2015, and has continued to be disabled
through the date of the ALJ's decision, August 31, 2016
(20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g), 404.315(a),
requested review by the Appeals Council (“AC”),
arguing the ALJ erred by mechanically applying the
Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the “Grids”) to
determine Plaintiff's onset disability date at age fifty,
just over five months after Plaintiff's DLI of December
31, 2014, rather than adjudicating the case as a
“borderline situation, ” which would allow for
consideration of an earlier disability onset date predating
her last insured date. R. 352-54. When the AC denied
Plaintiff's request for review, R. 1-6, 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 partially adverse decision.
argues the Commissioner's decision is not supported by
substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to determine if a
borderline age situation existed, and if so, then decide
whether Plaintiff's chronological age or the higher age
category should be used to make the disability determination.
See Pl.'s Br., doc. no. 14; Pl.'s Reply Br., doc. no.
16. The Commissioner maintains the administrative decision is
supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ properly
relied on the testimony of a VE to determine Plaintiff was