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Elder S. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

September 27, 2019

ELDER S., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION ON AN APPEAL FROM A SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY ACTION [1]

          LINDA T. WALKER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         On May 14, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for Supplemental security income under the Social Security Act, alleging he became disabled on December 1, 2005. (Tr. 15). Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's claims.

         After Plaintiff's application was denied initially on August 27, 2014, and on reconsideration on February 4, 2015, Plaintiff appealed the denial to an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who denied Plaintiff's claims on April 4, 2017, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 12, 15-26, 88, 102). Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 24, 2018. (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff then appealed the decision to this Court. (Doc. 3). This case is now before the undersigned upon the administrative record and the parties' pleadings and briefs, and is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         For the reasons set forth below, it is ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.

         I. STANDARD FOR DETERMINING DISABILITY

         An individual is considered to be disabled for purposes of disability benefits if he or she is “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The impairment or impairments must result from anatomical, psychological, or physiological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques and must be of such severity that the claimant is not only unable to do his or her previous work but cannot, considering age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B)-(G); see also 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)-(3).

         The burden of proof in a social security disability case is divided between the claimant and the Commissioner. The claimant bears the initial burden of establishing the existence of a “disability” by demonstrating that he or she is unable to perform his or her former type of work. Once the claimant has met this burden, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that, considering claimant's age, education, work experience, and impairment, there are some other types of jobs that exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform. The overall burden, however, rests upon the claimant to prove that he is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity that exists in the national economy. Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 n.2 (11th Cir. 2001).

         As summarized below, a five-step sequential analysis must be used when evaluating a disability claim.

(1) The Commissioner must determine whether the applicant is currently working; if so, the claim is denied.
(2) The Commissioner must determine whether the claimed impairment is severe; that is, whether the impairment or combination of impairments significantly limits the individual's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities; if not, the claim is denied.
(3) The Commissioner must determine whether the impairment equals or exceeds in severity certain impairments described in the impairment listings in the regulations; if it does, the claimant is automatically entitled to disability benefits.
(4) The Commissioner must determine whether the applicant has sufficient residual functional capacity to perform past work; if so, the claim is denied.
(5) The Commissioner must determine, on the basis of claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, whether the applicant can perform any other gainful and substantial work within the economy; if so, the claim is denied.

See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920-416.976.

         II. FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW OF THE ALJ

         The ALJ made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

(1) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 14, 2014, the application date (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.971, et seq.).
(2) The claimant has the following severe impairments: cannabis use disorder; schizoaffective disorder, depressive type; and anxiety (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. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926).
(4) The claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: The claimant is able to understand, remember and carry out simple instructions. He is able to make simple work-related decisions. He is able to maintain concentration for periods of two hours at a time in an eight-hour workday. He is able to ask simple questions and able to work in a nonpublic area. His interaction with the general public, coworkers and supervisors should be brief, superficial and occasional, but no more than one third of the workday. He would work better with things rather than people and no teamwork. Any interpersonal interaction should be incidental to the work being performed. He is able to sustain routine work without special supervision. He is able to adapt to occasional changes in the work processes and environment, and he is able to be aware of normal hazards and take appropriate precaution. He is able to travel to unfamiliar places. Due to his medical conditions and symptoms, he would be off task at unpredictable times up to 4% of the work period and he would be absent one day every forty-five days.
(5) The claimant has no past relevant work (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.965).
(6) The claimant was born on November 23, 1971, and forty-two years old, which is defined as a younger individual age eighteen to forty-nine, on the date the application was filed (20 C.F.R. § 416.963).
(7) The claimant has at least a high school education, and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. § 416.964).
(8) Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the claimant does not have past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § 416.968).
(9) Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
(10) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since May 14, 2014, the date the application was filed (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(g).

(Tr. 21-30).

         III. CLAIMS OF ERROR

         Plaintiff alleges the decision of the Commissioner is in error for the reasons set forth below.

A. The ALJ erred when she considered the evidence from View Point Health as an acceptable medical source and relied upon it to reject the opinion of Dr. Snook, an examining consultant.
B. The ALJ erred when she rejected Plaintiff's complaints of symptoms based on his demeanor during the hearing because she failed to consider the times during the hearing that he exhibited symptoms consistent with his complaints.
C. The ALJ erred when she relied upon Plaintiff's daily activities to reject Dr. Snook's opinion because Plaintiff's demeanor was not inconsistent with Dr. Snook's opinion.
D. The ALJ erred when she failed to consider whether Plaintiff met listing 12.03 (applicable to schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders).

         IV. SCOPE OF ...


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