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Calhoun v. Berryhill

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

March 11, 2019

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



         Plaintiff contests the decision of Administrative Law Judge John Maclean (“the ALJ” or “ALJ Maclean”) denying her claim for Supplement Security Income. Plaintiff urges the Court to reverse and remand the ALJ's decision. Doc. 15 at 16. Defendant asserts the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed. Doc. 16 at 13. For the reasons which follow, I RECOMMEND the Court AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision. I also RECOMMEND the Court DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case and enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal.


         Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income on June 18, 2013, alleging that she became disabled on June 1, 2013, due to scoliosis, thyroid disease, depression, back and joint pain, and an ovarian tumor. Doc. 9-2 at 11; Doc. 9-3 at 3. After her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. On January 21, 2016, ALJ Maclean conducted a hearing at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified. James Waddington, a vocational expert, also appeared at the hearing. ALJ Maclean conducted a supplemental video hearing on August 2, 2016, at which Kim E. Bennett, another vocational expert, appeared. Doc. 9-2 at 11. ALJ Maclean found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) since June 18, 2013, 2013. Id. 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. Id. at 2.

         Plaintiff, born on October 7, 1971, was 44 years old when ALJ Maclean issued his final decision. Id. at 20, 21. She has a limited education. Id. at 20, 40. Plaintiff has no past relevant work experience.[1] Id. at 20.


         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 meets the definition of disability. 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.” Id. 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. Id. at 140-41. If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments is 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 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 to determine if the impairment precludes the claimant from performing past relevant work, i.e., whether the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work. Id.; Stone v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 503 Fed.Appx. 692, 693 (11th Cir. 2013). A claimant's residual functional capacity “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 to make adjustments 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 did not engage in substantial gainful activity since June 18, 2013, her application date. Doc. 9-2 at 13. At step two, ALJ Maclean determined Plaintiff had degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, degenerative joint disease of the bilateral knees, bursitis of the right shoulder, and obesity, conditions considered “severe” under the Regulations because “they cause more than minimal functional limitations” in Plaintiff's ability to perform basic work activities. Id. However, at the third step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed impairment. Id. at 16. The ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform work at the sedentary exertional level with few changes and with the following exceptions: occasional climbing of ramps and stairs but no ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no working at heights; occasional working around hazards but no working around vibrating machinery; occasional stooping, crouching, and kneeling but no crawling; and occasional balancing, contact with the public, co-workers, and supervisors, and lifting overhead. Id. at 17. At the next step, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had no past relevant work experience, as Plaintiff's past work did not meet the qualifications for past relevant work at substantial gainful activity levels. Id. at 20. The ALJ concluded at the fifth and final step that Plaintiff could perform the jobs of addressor, final assembler, and table worker, all of which are jobs at the sedentary exertional level and which exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 20-21.

         II. Issues Presented

         Plaintiff raises three issues. First, Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in finding she did not have severe mental impairments and relying on the consultative examining psychologist, who was not given evidence of Plaintiff's vocational and employment history. Doc. 15 at 3-9. Second, Plaintiff asserts the ALJ erred on failing to find Plaintiff had a severe impairment of her cervical spine that affected her ability to work on a regular, sustained basis. Id. at 9-12. Finally, Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by giving weight to Dr. Andre Haynes's consultative examination because Dr. Haynes did not review MRIs and CTs scans ALJ Maclean ordered to be presented at the time of the examination. Id. at 12-16.

         III. ...

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