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Slone v. Berryhill

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

March 11, 2019

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



         Plaintiff contests the decision of Administrative Law Judge Geoffrey S. Casher (“the ALJ” or “ALJ Casher”) denying his claim for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff urges the Court to reverse and remand the ALJ's decision. Doc. 13 at 14. Defendant asserts the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed. Doc. 14 at 12. 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 a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits on February 20, 2014, alleging he became disabled on November 15, 2013, due to Crohn's disease, fibromyalgia, deep vein thrombosis, and anxiety. Doc. 11-2 at 18; Doc. 11-3 at 2. After his claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. On July 22, 2016, ALJ Casher conducted a video hearing at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified from Waycross, Georgia. Mark Leaptrot, a vocational expert, also appeared at the hearing. ALJ Casher found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) since November 15, 2013. Doc. 11-2 at 18. 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 July 30, 1984, was 32 years old when ALJ Casher issued his final decision. Id. at 25, 26. He has at least a high school education and obtained a five-year degree from a union training program. Id. at 25, 37. Plaintiff's past relevant work experience includes work as an electrician helper, construction worker, customer service representative, and security guard. Id. at 25.


         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 his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his 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 his 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 his 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 his past relevant work, the final step of the evaluation process determines whether he is able to make adjustments to other work in the national economy, considering his 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 September 15, 2013, his application date. Doc. 11-2 at 20. At step two, ALJ Casher determined Plaintiff had Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, anxiety disorder, left shoulder bursitis, and a history of deep vein thrombosis, conditions considered “severe” under the Regulations because “they have more than a minimal effect on” Plaintiff's ability to perform work-related 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 21. The ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform work at the light exertional level, with the following exceptions: lifting and/or carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; standing and walking six hours in an eight hour workday with six hours of seated work; occasional bending, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and climbing ramps and stairs, but no climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; occasional bilateral overhead reaching; no exposure to hazardous conditions such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery; simple routine tasks involving no more than simple, short instructions and simple work-related decisions with few workplace changes; and avoiding work at production rate pace quota/piece type work. Id. at 22. At the next step, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform any of his past relevant work. Id. at 25. The ALJ concluded at the fifth and final step that Plaintiff could perform the jobs of washing machine attendant, information clerk, and folder, all of which are jobs at the light, unskilled exertional level and which exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 26.

         II. ...

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