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Harris v. Saul

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

July 25, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.



         Chakisha Shavone Harris appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act. Upon consideration of the briefs, 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 on April 10, 2014, and protectively applied for SSI on April 14, 2014, alleging an amended disability onset date of March 2, 2012. Tr. (“R.”), pp. 13, 322-332, 378. For purposes of DIB, Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2015. R. 13. Plaintiff was thirty-three years old at her amended alleged disability onset date and was thirty-eight years old when the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued the decision currently under consideration. R. 24, 26, 378. Plaintiff applied for disability benefits based on a combination of alleged impairments, including nerve damage, pain and numbness, cervical spine surgery, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, acid reflux disease, and spine problems. R. 383. Plaintiff completed the eleventh grade, and prior to her alleged disability accrued a relevant work history as a nurse assistant, housekeeper, dining room attendant, and daycare worker. R. 24, 384.

         The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's applications initially and on reconsideration. R. 104-33, 138-69. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an ALJ, R. 232, and the ALJ held a hearing on April 3, 2017. R. 37-96. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by Dorita P. Watson, a non-attorney representative, and Theresa Wolford, a Vocational Expert. Id. On July 20, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. 10-26. Applying the sequential process required by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920, the ALJ found:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 2, 2012, the amended alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq. and 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: major depressive disorder; panic disorder; morbid obesity; degenerative changes of the cervical and lumbar spine, status post C5-C6 anterior disc fusion; diabetes mellitus, type II; carpal tunnel syndrome; gastro-esophageal reflux disease; history of gastroenteritis and colitis; and hypertension. (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 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. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. The claimant has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work[2] as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; no climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling; frequent handling and fingering; simple routine tasks; and occasional interaction with the public. Thus, the claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work. (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565 and 416.965).
5. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant No. in the national economy that the claimant can perform, including final assembler, document preparer, and table worker. (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)). Therefore, the claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from March 2, 2012, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

R. 13-21.

         When the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, R. 1-6, 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 the adverse decision. Plaintiff argues the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ erred by: (1) failing adequately to explain her RFC findings as to Plaintiff's (i) migraine headaches and muscle spasms, (ii) moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence, and pace, and (iii) bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome; (2) failing to properly consider whether Plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled the severity of Listing 1.04; and (3) finding Plaintiff's subjective complaints as to the degenerative changes of her cervical and lumbar spine were not consistent with the objective evidence of record. See doc. no. 19 (“Pl.'s Br.”). The Commissioner maintains the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and should therefore be affirmed. See doc. no. 20 (“Comm'r's Br.”).


         Judicial 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 ...

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