United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Dublin Division
JIMMY D. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
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.
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND
K. EPPS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
D. Johnson appeals the decision of the Deputy Commissioner
for Operations of Social Security denying his application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) 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 the Commissioner's final decision be AFFIRMED,
this civil action be CLOSED, and a final judgment be ENTERED
in favor of the Commissioner.
applied for SSI on October 15, 2014, alleging a disability
onset date of September 1, 2006. Tr. (“R.”), p.
38. Plaintiff was fifty-three years old on the date he filed
his application, and fifty-five years old at the time of the
Administrative Law Judge's decision (“ALJ”).
R. 17, 24. Plaintiff applied for benefits based on
allegations of human immunodeficiency virus
(“HIV”), back problems, knee problems, and mental
problems. R. 17, 60, 68. Plaintiff completed high school and
a few courses at a technical college. R. 39, 213. Plaintiff
served in the United States Marine Corps from 1980 to 1985,
and starting after 2002, Plaintiff worked part time in
maintenance by painting and doing small repairs. R. 40-42,
51, 204-205. Additionally, Plaintiff has a significant
criminal history, which includes approximately twenty-seven
felony convictions. R. 42. In prison, Plaintiff worked in the
kitchen, primarily cleaning counters and prepping the kitchen
for inspection. R. 45-46. The ALJ found Plaintiff's part
time jobs were all under substantial gainful activity levels,
and he had no past relevant work history within the past
fifteen years. R. 42, 51.
Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's
applications initially, R. 60-67, and on reconsideration, R.
74-81. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, R. 94,
and the ALJ held a hearing on February 7, 2017. R. 29-59. At
the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was
not represented by counsel, as well as from Kenneth L.
Bennett, a Vocational Expert (“VE”). Id.
On May 8, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R.
the sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. § 416.920,
the ALJ found:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 15, 2014, the application date (20
C.F.R. §§ 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairment: human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(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. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925,
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels but with the following nonexertional
limitations: the claimant should avoid work that involves
handling food and pulmonary irritants. The claimant has no
past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § 416.965).
5. Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and Residual Functioning Capacity
(“RFC”), there are jobs that exist in significant
No. in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20
C.F.R. §§ 416.969 and 416.969(a)). Therefore, the
claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, since October 15, 2014, the date of the
application was filed (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)).
the Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's
request for review, R. 7-11, the Commissioner's decision
became “final” for the purpose of judicial
review. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff argues the
ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence
because: (1) the ALJ failed to find Plaintiff is disabled as
a result of his HIV; (2) the ALJ erred in finding Plaintiff
has not been under a disability since October 15, 2014
because of his prior applications; (3) the ALJ failed to find
Plaintiff's HIV met a Listing at step three; and (4) the
ALJ incorrectly considered Plaintiff's HIV and other
impairments in determining Plaintiff's RFC. See doc. no.
21 (“Pl.'s Br.”). The Commissioner maintains
the decision to deny Plaintiff benefits is supported by
substantial evidence and should therefore be affirmed. See
doc. no. 24 (“Comm'r's Br.”).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review of social security cases is narrow and limited to the
following questions: (1) whether the Commissioner's
findings are supported by substantial evidence, and (2)
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards.
Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir.
1997). When considering whether the Commissioner's
decision is supported by substantial evidence, the reviewing
court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or
substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's. Moore
v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005);
Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th
Cir. 1991). Notwithstanding this measure of deference, the
Court remains obligated to scrutinize the whole record to
determine whether substantial evidence supports each
essential administrative finding. Bloodsworth v.
Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983).
Commissioner's factual findings should be affirmed if
there is substantial evidence to support them. Barron v.
Sullivan, 924 F.2d 227, 230 (11th Cir. 1991).
Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla, but
less than a preponderance: ‘[i]t is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” Martin v.
Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (quoting
Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239). If the Court finds
substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's
factual findings, it must uphold the Commissioner even if the
evidence preponderates in favor of the claimant. Crawford
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th
Cir. 2004). Finally, the Commissioner's findings of fact
must be grounded in the entire record; a decision that
focuses on one aspect of the evidence and disregards other
contrary evidence is not based upon substantial evidence.
McCruter v. Bowen, 791 F.2d 1544, 1548 (11th Cir.
deference accorded the Commissioner's findings of fact
does not extend to her conclusions of law, which enjoy no
presumption of validity. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d
1233, 1236 (11th Cir. 1991) (holding judicial review of
Commissioner's legal conclusions are not subject to
substantial evidence standard). If the Commissioner fails
either to apply correct legal standards or to provide the
reviewing court with the means to determine whether correct
legal standards were in fact applied, the Court must reverse
the decision. Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387,
1389 (11th Cir. 1982).
argues the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence because: (1) the ALJ failed to find Plaintiff is
disabled as a result of his HIV; (2) the ALJ erred in finding
Plaintiff has not been under a disability since October 15,
2014 because of his prior applications; (3) the ALJ failed to
find Plaintiff's HIV met a Listing at step three; and (4)
the ALJ incorrectly considered Plaintiff's HIV and other
impairments in determining Plaintiff's RFC. See Pl.'s
Br. The Commissioner argues in response: (1) the ALJ properly
evaluated Plaintiff's impairments; (2) those impairments
did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment; (3) the
ALJ's RFC finding was supported by substantial evidence;
and (4) the ALJ properly found Plaintiff was not disabled.
Comm'r's Br., pp. 5-19.
Sequential Evaluation Process
Eleventh Circuit has outlined the five-step sequential
process for evaluating a claim for disability benefits as
1. Is the individual performing substantial gainful activity?
2. Does he have a severe impairment?
3. Does he have a severe impairment that meets or equals an
impairment specifically listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1?
4. Can he perform he past relevant work?
5. Based on his age, education, and work experience, can he
perform other work of the sort found in the national economy?
Phillip v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir.
2004) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520).
one, if the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity,
the process stops, and a claimant is determined to be
“not disabled.” Id. If the claimant is
not doing substantial gainful activity, the process proceeds
to step two. Id. In this case, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since he alleged onset date, R. 17, and moved on to step two.
ALJ Properly Evaluated Plaintiff's Severe Impairments at
two, the regulations instruct that a severe impairment is one
which significantly limits one's ability to perform
“basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. §
416.922(a) (“An impairment or combination of
impairments is not severe if it does not significantly limit
your physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities.”). Basic work activities involve ...