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Clark v. Berryhill

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

March 11, 2019

MARGIE CLARK, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BENJAMIN W. CHEESBRO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff contests the decision of Administrative Law Judge Donald B. Fishman (“the ALJ” or “ALJ Fishman”) denying her claim for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff urges the Court to reverse and remand the ALJ's decision for additional medical and vocational analyses. Doc. 12 at 8. Defendant asserts the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed. Doc. 13 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.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits on June 5, 2014, alleging that she became disabled on October 23, 2013, due to numbness, pain, and an inability to grab or lift. Doc. 10-2 at 16; Doc. 10-3 at 2. After her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. On December 2, 2016, ALJ Fishman conducted a video hearing at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified from Waycross, Georgia. James Waddington, a vocational expert, also appeared at the hearing. Doc. 10-2 at 16. ALJ Fishman found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) since October 23, 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 December 13, 1965, was 51 years old when ALJ Fishman issued his final decision and 47 years old on her alleged disability onset date. Id. at 20, 21. She has a limited education. Id. at 20, 33 Plaintiff's past relevant work experience includes work as a convenience store clerk and material handler. Id. at 20.

         DISCUSSION

         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 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 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 ...


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