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Miller v. Saul

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

July 26, 2019

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


          Christopher L. Ray, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Ashley Marie Miller seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB).


         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[2] 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

         Miller, who was 33 years old when her SSI and DIB claims were denied, alleges disability beginning on January 18, 2012. Tr. 10. She has a high school education, is able to communicate in English, and past job experience as a receptionist. Tr. 23 & 45. After a hearing, tr. 40-77, and on remand from the Appeals Council for reconsideration of plaintiff's mental impairments and medical source opinions, see tr. 204-08, 292-94, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, tr. 10-24. He found that Miller's diabetes mellitus, type I with neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and sleep apnea constituted severe impairments but did not meet or medically equal a Listing. Tr. 13-15. The ALJ thus found that Miller retained the RFC for light work except

. . . she can push/pull up to 10 pounds occasionally; she can stand//walk up to 4 out of 8 hours, and sit up to 8 out of 8 hours with normal breaks; she needs sit/stand option every hour; she can do no climbing ladders or scaffolds; she can frequently do stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling; she can frequently do handling, fingering, and feeling; she can occasionally do foot controls; and she should avoid unprotected heights or other hazards. The claimant is limited to perform simple, routine work in work involving simple, work-related decisions with few, if any, workplace changes; and she can have occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors, but no public interaction.

Tr. 15. Plaintiff, he determined, could not perform her past relevant work but could perform the requirements of representative work such as assembler, final parts assembler, and surveillance monitor, all unskilled, sedentary work with an SVP of 2[3]. Tr. 23-25. Miller disagrees, arguing that the ALJ erred in his evaluation of the medical opinion evidence and third-party witness testimony. Docs. 15 & 18.

         An ALJ is entitled to formulate an RFC and resolve any ambiguity or inconsistency in the medical evidence, 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.927(d)(2), 946(c), based on the entire record, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a (evaluation of mental impairments), 416.945(a)(3) (the RFC is based on all the relevant evidence, including diagnoses, treatment, observations, and opinions of medical sources, as well as witness testimony). The RFC represents the most a claimant can do despite her limitations, SSR[4] 96-8p, and it is the ALJ's responsibility (and not any doctor's) to assess the RFC based on the record as a whole. Robinson v. Astrue, 365 Fed.Appx. 993, 999 (11th Cir. 2010) (“the task of determining a claimant's [RFC] and ability to work is within the province of the ALJ, not of doctor's.”); see 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(3) (“We will assess your residual functional capacity based on all of the relevant medical and other evidence.”); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1546(c) (the ALJ has the responsibility for determining a claimant's RFC). And the ALJ can distill a claimant's RFC from an amalgamation of the record as a whole, without requiring a specific medical opinion to articulate a specific functional limitation. See Chapo v. Astrue, 682 ...

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