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Lloyd v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

September 1, 2017

WILLIE LLOYD, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER [2]

          JAMES R. KLINDT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. Status

         Willie Lloyd (“Plaintiff”) is appealing the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's final decision denying his claim for supplemental security income (“SSI”). Plaintiff's alleged inability to work is a result of being “HIV positive.” Transcript of Administrative Proceedings (Doc. No. 11; “Tr.” or “administrative transcript”), filed September 29, 2016, at 76, 84; see also Tr. at 198. On April 25, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging an onset disability date of March 28, 2013. Tr. at 162-67. Plaintiff's application was denied initially, Tr. at 76-82, 83, 94-101, and on reconsideration, Tr. at 84-92, 93, 104-10.

         On May 7, 2015, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing at which the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, who appeared with a non-attorney representative, and a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. at 31-75; see Tr. at 33, 155-56 (Appointment of Representative form and contract). On June 3, 2015, the ALJ issued a Decision finding Plaintiff not disabled since the date the SSI application was filed.[3] Tr. at 17-26. Plaintiff then requested review by the Appeals Council. Tr. at 13. The Appeals Council accepted additional evidence in the form of medical records. Tr. at 5-6; see Tr. at 737-45 (medical records). On June 29, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, Tr. at 1-4, making the ALJ's Decision the final decision of the Commissioner. On July 28, 2016, Plaintiff commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), as incorporated by § 1383(c)(3), by timely filing a Complaint (Doc. No. 1), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.

         Plaintiff makes two arguments on appeal. First, “the ALJ erred in his formulation of the hypothetical to the VE.” Memorandum in Support of Complaint (Doc. No. 16; “Pl.'s Mem.”), filed November 14, 2016, at 5 (emphasis and capitalization omitted). Second, still with respect to the hypothetical posed to the VE, Plaintiff contends “the ALJ erred by not appropriately evaluating the medical evidence of record and specifically the side effects from the medications.” Id. at 8 (emphasis and capitalization omitted). On January 13, 2017, Defendant filed a Memorandum in Support of the Commissioner's Decision (Doc. No. 17; “Def.'s Mem.”) addressing the arguments raised by Plaintiff. After a thorough review of the record and consideration of the parties' respective memoranda, the undersigned determines that the Commissioner's final decision is due to be affirmed.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         When determining whether an individual is disabled, [4] an ALJ must follow the five-step sequential inquiry set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations (“Regulations”), determining as appropriate whether the claimant (1) is currently employed or engaging in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one listed in the Regulations; (4) can perform past relevant work; and (5) retains the ability to perform any work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant bears the burden of persuasion through step four and, at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).

         Here, the ALJ followed the five-step sequential inquiry. See Tr. at 19-26. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff “has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 3, 2013, the [protective] application date.” Tr. at 19 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “has the following severe impairment: A history of being human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) positive.” Tr. at 19 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step three, the ALJ ascertained that Plaintiff “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” Tr. at 20 (emphasis and citation omitted).

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

[Plaintiff can] perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR [§] 416.967(c). Specifically he has the ability to lift and/or carry and push and/or pull 50 pounds occasionally, and 25 pounds frequently; sit for four hours at a time and a total of eight hours during an eight hour day, and stand and/or walk for four hours at a time and a total of eight hours during an eight hour day with occasional climbing of ladders and frequent climbing of stairs and ramps, and frequent balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling.

Tr. at 20 (emphasis omitted). At step four, the ALJ relied on the testimony of the VE to find that Plaintiff “is capable of performing past relevant work as a landscape laborer . . . and kitchen helper.” Tr. at 24 (emphasis, some capitalization, and citation omitted); see also Tr. at 25. The ALJ also made alternative findings at step five. Tr. at 25-26. There, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's age (“53 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the date the application was filed” with a “subsequent[] changed age category to advanced age”), education (“at least high school education and is able to communicate in English”[5]), work experience, and RFC, and relied on the testimony of the VE to find that Plaintiff is capable of performing work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. at 25-26 (some emphasis omitted). Namely, the ALJ identified representative jobs as “hand packager, ” “stores laborer, ” and “dining room attendant.” Tr. at 26 (capitalization omitted). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff “has not been under a disability . . . since April 3, 2013, the date the application was filed.” Tr. at 26 (emphasis and citation omitted).

         III. Standard of Review

         This Court reviews the Commissioner's final decision as to disability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Although no deference is given to the ALJ's conclusions of law, findings of fact “are conclusive if . . . supported by ‘substantial evidence.'” Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1322 (11th Cir. 1998)). “Substantial evidence is something ‘more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance.'” Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Hale v. Bowen, 831 F.2d 1007, 1011 (11th Cir. 1987)). The substantial evidence standard is met when there is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Falge, 150 F.3d at 1322 (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). It is not for this Court to reweigh the evidence; rather, the entire record is reviewed to determine whether “the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.” Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991) (citation omitted). The decision reached by the Commissioner must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence-even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's findings. Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2004) (per curiam).

         IV. ...


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