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Whitaker v. Saul

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

July 29, 2019

JOYCE ELAINE WHITAKER, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BRIAN K. EPPS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Joyce Elaine Whitaker appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her 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 the Commissioner's final decision be AFFIRMED, this civil action be CLOSED, and a final judgment be ENTERED in favor of the Commissioner.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB on March 5, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2011. Tr. (“R.”), pp. 13, 155-161. Plaintiff's last insured date for purposes of the DIB application is March 31, 2013. R. 14. Plaintiff was fifty-seven years old on her alleged disability onset date. R. 57, 155. Plaintiff applied for benefits based on allegations of hypothyroidism, congestive heart failure with dilate cardiomyopathy, plural effusion, coronary artery disease (“CAD”), type 2 diabetes, and “non-viable heart.” R. 190. Plaintiff has a high school education and completed two years of college in 1974. R. 191. Prior to her alleged disability, Plaintiff had accrued relevant work history as a licensed vocational nurse for both a hospital and assisted living facility. R. 22, 33, 196-98.

         The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's applications initially, R. 57-63, and on reconsideration, R. 64-71. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), R. 83-84, and the ALJ held a hearing on February 17, 2017. R. 28-56. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by Andrew S. Youngman and Elliot Durham, as well as from Robert E. Brabham, Jr., a Vocational Expert (“VE”). Id. On March 21, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. 13-23.

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

1. The claimant did not engage substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of January 1, 2011, through her date last insured of March 31, 2013 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq.).
2. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease of the right hip and lumbar degenerative disc disease/spondylosis (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)).
3. Through the date last insured, 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. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the RFC to perform the full range of medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c). Specifically, the claimant is able to lift and carry up to 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently and stand, walk, and sit 6 hours each in an 8-hour day. The claimant was capable of performing past relevant work as a licensed nurse [(DOT # 079.374-014), medium skilled, SVP 6]. This work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 C.F.R. § 404.1565).
5. The Claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from January 11, 2011, the alleged onset date, through March 31, 2013, the last date insured (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f)).

R. 15-23.

         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 and remand of that adverse decision. Plaintiff argues the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to properly develop the record to determine the onset date of Plaintiff's chronic, disabling cardiac conditions. See doc. no. 15 (“Pl.'s Br.”). The Commissioner maintains ...


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