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Gassler v. Berryhill

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

February 6, 2019

ANNA M. GASSLER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Christopher L. Ray, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Anna M. Gassler seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's denial of her application for Disability Insurance (DIB) benefits.

         I. GOVERNING STANDARDS

         In social security cases, courts

. . . review the Commissioner's decision for substantial evidence. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted). . . . “We may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (quotation and brackets omitted). “If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, this Court must affirm, even if the proof preponderates against it.” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quotation omitted).

Mitchell v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 771 F.3d 780, 782 (11th Cir. 2014).

         The burden of proving disability lies with the claimant. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005). The ALJ applies

. . . a five-step, “sequential” process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1). If an ALJ finds a claimant disabled or not disabled at any given step, the ALJ does not go on to the next step. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4). At the first step, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). At the second step, the ALJ must determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments for which the claimant allegedly suffers is “severe.” Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). At the third step, the ALJ must decide whether the claimant's severe impairments meet or medically equal a listed impairment. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If not, the ALJ must then determine at step four whether the claimant has the RFC[1] to perform her past relevant work. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform her past relevant work, the ALJ must determine at step five whether the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, considering the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience. An ALJ may make this determination either by applying the Medical Vocational Guidelines or by obtaining the testimony of a [Vocational Expert].

Stone v. Comm'r. of Soc. Sec. Admin., 596 F. App'x, 878, 879 (11th Cir. 2015) (footnote added).

         II. ANALYSIS

         Gassler, who was 58 years old when her disability application was denied, alleges disability beginning August 1, 2012. Tr. 10. She has a high school education and past work experience as a retail store manager, sandwich maker, and fast food worker/cashier. Tr. 15, 31. After a hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. Tr. 10-16. He found that Gassler's arthritis and obesity constituted severe impairments but did not meet or medically equal a Listing. Tr. 12-13. Based on the evidence of record, the ALJ found that she retained the RFC for the full range of work at all exertional levels except that Gassler

can perform work with a Specific Vocation Preparation[2] equivalent to her past relevant work, or 1-2. Additionally, [she] can frequently but not constantly stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs; occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; and should avoid more than occasional exposure to hazardous machinery and unprotected heights.

Tr. 13 (footnote added).

         The ALJ asked the Vocational Expert (VE) whether an individual with plaintiff's RFC could perform any of her past relevant work. Tr. 31. The VE testified that she could. Id. Plaintiff, the ALJ thus determined, was capable of performing her past relevant work as a fast food worker/cashier, light work with an SVP of 2. Tr. 15. Gassler disagrees, arguing that the ALJ erred by failing to address her rebuttal evidence regarding her ability to work as a fast food worker as well as her objections that the ...


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