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Pap v. Berryhill

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

March 11, 2019

CRYSTAL PAP, 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 John H. Maclean (“the ALJ” or “ALJ Maclean”) denying her claim for Supplemental Security Income. Plaintiff urges the Court to reverse and remand the ALJ's decision for proper consideration of the evidence in this case. Doc. 14 at 21. Defendant asserts the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed. Doc. 15 at 11. 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 Supplemental Security Income on July 29, 2014, alleging that she became disabled on March 4, 2014, due to bipolar disorder, obesity, post-traumatic stress disorder, high blood pressure and cholesterol, sleep apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and swelling of her feet and legs. Doc. 10-3 at 5; Doc. 10-4 at 2. After her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing. On September 13, 2016, ALJ Maclean conducted a video hearing at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified from Waycross, Georgia. Don K. Harrison, a vocational expert, also appeared at the hearing. Doc. 10-3 at 5. ALJ Maclean found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) since her application date of July 29, 2014. Id. at 6. 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.[1] Id. at 2.

         Plaintiff, born on June 7, 1977, was 37 years old on her alleged disability onset date and 39 years old when ALJ Maclean issued his final decision. Doc. 10-3 at 17, 18. She has at least a high school education and some college. Id. at 17, 40. Plaintiff's past relevant work experience includes work as a corrections officer.[2] Doc. 10-3 at 17.

         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 July 29, 2014, her application date. Doc. 10-3 at 7. At step two, ALJ Maclean determined Plaintiff had carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines, diabetes mellitus type 2, obesity, and bipolar disorder, conditions considered “severe” under the Regulations because her impairments caused “limitations or restriction having more than a minimal effect” on Plaintiff's ability to perform work-related activities. Id. & at 8. However, at the third step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairment did not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed impairment. Id. at 9. The ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform work at the sedentary exertional level, with the following exceptions: frequently climbing ramps and stairs; never climbing ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; frequently handling or fingering bilaterally but never performing rapid, repetitive movements; never crawling; occasionally stooping, crouching, or kneeling; occasionally working around hazardous machinery or heights; routine work with few changes; and occasionally interacting with supervisors, coworkers, and the public. Id. at 12. At the next step, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform any of her past relevant work. Id. at 16. The ALJ concluded at the fifth and final step that Plaintiff could perform the jobs of an optical inspector and surveillance system operator, both of which are jobs at the unskilled, sedentary exertional level and which exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 18.

         II. ...


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