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Ruth v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

June 19, 2017

CHANELL RUTH, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MAC R. MCCOY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Chanell Ruth's Complaint (Doc. 1) filed on April 12, 2016. Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income.[1] The Commissioner filed the Transcript of the proceedings (hereinafter referred to as “Tr.” followed by the appropriate page number), and the parties filed legal memoranda in support of their positions. For the reasons set out herein, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. Social Security Act Eligibility, the ALJ Decision, and Standard of Review

A. Eligibility

The law defines disability as the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505, 416.905. The impairment must be severe, making the claimant unable to do her previous work or any other substantial gainful activity that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2), 1382c(a)(3); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505 - 404.1511, 416.905 - 416.911. Plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion through step four, while the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).

         B. Procedural History

         On November 10, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). (Tr. at 85, 86, 230-242). Plaintiff asserted an onset date of December 31, 2011. (Id. at 230). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on April 16, 2012, and on reconsideration on September 11, 2012. (Id. at 85, 85, 87, 88). A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Valencia Jarvis on July 23, 2014. (Id. at 35-74). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 12, 2014. (Id. at 12-27). The ALJ found Plaintiff not to be under a disability from December 31, 2011, through the date of the decision. (Id. at 26).

         On March 9, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id. at 1-5). Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) in the United States District Court on April 12, 2016. This case is ripe for review. The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings. (See Doc. 15).

         C. Summary of the ALJ's Decision

An ALJ must follow a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if a claimant has proven that she is disabled. Packer v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 542 F. App'x 890, 891 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999)).[2] An ALJ must determine whether the claimant: (1) is performing substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has a severe impairment that meets or equals an impairment specifically listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) can perform her past relevant work; and (5) can perform other work of the sort found in the national economy. Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-40 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant has the burden of proof through step four and then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Hines-Sharp v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 511 F. App'x 913, 915 n.2 (11th Cir. 2013).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through June 30, 2012. (Tr. at 14). At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 31, 2011, the alleged onset date. (Id.). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: obesity, hypertension, depression, and anxiety. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did 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, subpt. P, app. 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926). (Tr. at 17-18). At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work except for the following:

the claimant can never climb ladders, and scaffolds and can occasionally climb ramps[, ] stairs, balance, bend, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant is able to understand, remember and carry out short, simple work instructions with occasional contact with the general public.

(Id. at 21). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not capable of performing her past relevant work as a cashier, nursing assistant, kitchen worker/helper, and fast food cook. (Id. at 25). After considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Id.). Specifically, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was able to perform the following jobs: (1) cleaner/housekeeping, DOT # 323.687-014, light exertion, unskilled, with an SVP of 2; mail clerk, DT # 209.687-026, light exertion, unskilled, with an SVP of 2; and stock clerk, DOT # 299.667-014, light exertion, unskilled, with an SVP of 2. (Id. at 26).[3] The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability from December 31, 2011, through the date of the decision. (Id.).

         D. ...


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