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Gwendolyn R. v. Saul

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

September 30, 2019

GWENDOLYN R., 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.

         Plaintiff protectively filed both a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income (“SSI”), alleging she became disabled on November 29, 2016. Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3) and to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's claims.

         On December 2, 2016, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI benefits alleging disability beginning on November 29, 2016, due to degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. (Transcript (“Tr.”) 224-234). After Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on March 2, 2017, and on reconsideration on June 15, 2017, Plaintiff appealed the denial to an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who denied Plaintiff's claims on November 29, 2017, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 11-26). Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 5, 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), 1383(c)(3).

         For the reasons set forth below, it is ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner is hereby REVERSED AND REMANDED to the Commissioner pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §405(g) for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         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 meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2017.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 29, 2016, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571, et seq., 416.971, et seq.).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairment: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c)).
(4) 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. §§ 404. 1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926).
(5) The claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform less than a full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The claimant can perform frequent climbing of ramps and stairs; ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; and balancing. The claimant can perform occasional stooping. The claimant can ...

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