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Jackson v. Berryhill

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

May 28, 2019

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



         Plaintiff Ingrid Jackson seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits.


         In social security cases, courts

. . . review the Commissioner's decision for substantial evidence. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted). . . . “We may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute our judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (quotation and brackets omitted). “If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, this Court must affirm, even if the proof preponderates against it.” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quotation omitted).

Mitchell v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 771 F.3d 780, 782 (11th Cir. 2014).

         The burden of proving disability lies with the claimant. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211 (11th Cir. 2005). The ALJ applies

. . . a five-step, “sequential” process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1). If an ALJ finds a claimant disabled or not disabled at any given step, the ALJ does not go on to the next step. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4). At the first step, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). At the second step, the ALJ must determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments for which the claimant allegedly suffers is “severe.” Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). At the third step, the ALJ must decide whether the claimant's severe impairments meet or medically equal a listed impairment. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If not, the ALJ must then determine at step four whether the claimant has the RFC[1] to perform her past relevant work. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform her past relevant work, the ALJ must determine at step five whether the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, considering the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience. An ALJ may make this determination either by applying the Medical Vocational Guidelines or by obtaining the testimony of a [Vocational Expert (VE)].

Stone v. Comm'r. of Soc. Sec. Admin., 596 F. App'x, 878, 879 (11th Cir. 2015) (footnote added).

         II. ANALYSIS

         Jackson, who was 30 years old when her claim was denied, alleges disability beginning on August 30, 2011. Tr. 25. She has at least a high school education, and past job experience as a cleaner and housekeeper. Tr. 32. After a hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. Tr. 25-33. He found Jackson's lupus, IBS, colitis, depression, anxiety, and marijuana abuse severe but found that they did not meet or medically equal a Listing. Tr. 28-29. The ALJ thus found that Jackson retained the RFC for a full range of work, except she could have no jobs causing direct exposure to the sun, could have non-intensive interaction with the public, coworkers, and supervisors in non-confrontational situations, was best suited to a low-stress work environment without the demands of hourly production quotas, could perform short-cycle repetitive work, and should not be isolated from bathroom facilities. Tr. 29. Plaintiff, he determined, could perform her past relevant work as a housekeeper. Tr. 26, 32.

         Jackson disagrees, [2] arguing that the ALJ erred in failing to consider the treating physician's statements regarding the limiting effects of Jackson's discoid lupus erythematosus (“DLE”) during flare ups, or the side effects of Jackson's medications. Doc. 12. Specifically, Jackson argues that the ALJ should have considered her treating dermatologist's opinion on the periodic nature of plaintiff's lupus flare-ups. Doc. 17 at 3. Plaintiff argues that, had the ALJ properly incorporated the restrictions imposed by the flare-ups and her medication side effects into the RFC, she would have been found disabled. Docs. 12 & 17. Plaintiff notes that the medications she takes to control her lupus have significant side effects and that these side effects prohibit her from maintaining employment. Doc. 12 at 6.

         I. Limiting Effects of Jackson's Lupus

         Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred in failing to consider the limiting effects imposed by her lupus. Id. at 2-3. The ALJ assigned claimant's treating dermatologist's-Sidney Smith-opinions little weight. Id. at 4. She alleges that the ALJ erred by considering only her symptoms and ability to work during quiescent periods rather than when a lupus flare-up occurs and that the ALJ discounted her treating physician's reports of mental deficits. Id. 4-6. Likewise, she argues that the ALJ improperly credited her testimony as to her capabilities ...

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