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Larsen v. Berryhill

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

March 19, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations of the Social Security Administration, Performing the Duties and Functions Not Reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Donald Larsen appeals the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act. Upon consideration of the briefs submitted by both parties, the record evidence, and the relevant statutory and case law, the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Commissioner's final decision be REVERSED and the case be REMANDED to the Commissioner for further consideration in accordance with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB in June of 2015, alleging a disability onset date of October 10, 2013. Tr. (“R.”), pp. 203-09. Plaintiff's last insured date for purposes of the DIB application is December 31, 2019. R. 13, 288. Plaintiff was thirty years old on his alleged disability onset date. R. 288. Plaintiff applied for benefits based on allegations of PTSD, lower back problems, degenerative disc disease, a “rare back disorder, ” knee problems, a neurocognitive disorder, right shoulder problems, a herniated disc, degenerative joint disease, moderate foraminal canal stenosis, anxiety, and use of a C-PAP machine. R. 247, 266. Plaintiff has a high school education and completed one year of college. R. 248. Prior to his alleged disability, Plaintiff had accrued relevant work history as an infantry weapons crew member, mail room attendant and supervisor, food handler, and produce clerk. R. 24, 74, 248, 267.

         The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's applications initially, R. 107-22, and on reconsideration, R. 123-41. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), R. 171-72, and the ALJ held a hearing on May 11, 2017. R. 31-82. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, as well as from Carey A. Washington, Pd.D., a Vocational Expert (“VE”). Id. On October 27, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. 10-26.

         Applying the sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, the ALJ found:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 10, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: lumbar spine disorder with radiculopathy, degenerative joint disease of the right knee and right shoulder, mild neurocognitive disorder, anxiety disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obesity (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)).
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526).
4. The claimant has the RFC to perform sedentary work[1] as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) except he can lift no more than 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently. He can stand and/or walk for an aggregate of 2 hours in an 8-hour workday. He can stoop, balance, crouch, kneel, and climb ramps and stairs no more than occasionally. He cannot crawl or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can frequently reach overhead with his bilateral upper extremities. He cannot have exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights, vibration, or dangerous machinery. He cannot have concentrated exposure to extremes of humidity, heat, or cold. He is limited to performing simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, but is able to maintain concentration, persistence, and pace on such tasks for periods of two hours without the need for special supervision; in a low stress environment, meaning he should not be required to meet a rigid, inflexible production schedule, make complex decisions, or adapt to frequent changes in the routine work setting, with any such changes also being gradually introduced. He cannot have interaction with the general public and cannot have close, tandem task interaction with co-workers. He must use a cane to ambulate. Thus, the claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § 404.1565).
5. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform, including food service order clerk and addresser (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569 and 404.1569(a)). Therefore, the claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from October 10, 2013, through the date of the ALJ's decision (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)).

R. 15-26.

         When the Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for review, R. 1-3, the Commissioner's decision became “final” for the purpose of judicial review. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff then filed this civil action requesting reversal or remand of that adverse decision.

         Plaintiff argues the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to properly: (1) weigh the opinion evidence in determining Plaintiff's RFC; (2) discount Plaintiff's subjective complaints; and (3) develop a full and fair record. See doc. no. 17 (“Pl.'s Br.”); doc. no. 79 (“Pl.'s Reply Br.”). The Commissioner maintains the decision to deny Plaintiff benefits ...

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