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Hamilton v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 20, 2018

AURELIA RANDOLPH HAMILTON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MAC R. MCCOY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This cause is before the Court on Plaintiff Aurelia Randolph Hamilton's Complaint (Doc. 1) filed on February 23, 2017. 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. 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 REVERSED and REMANDED pursuant to §205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. Social Security Act Eligibility, the ALJ's 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)(B); 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 January 3, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income, asserting an onset date of October 29, 2010. (Tr. at 93, 201-213). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on February 25, 2013 and upon reconsideration on June 10, 2013. (Id. at 93, 94, 117, 118). A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Roxanne Fuller on August 4, 2015. (Id. at 38-72). The ALJ issued an initial unfavorable decision on September 25, 2015. (Id. at 20-33). The ALJ found Plaintiff not to be under a disability from October 29, 2010, through the date of the decision. (Id. at 33). The Appeals Council considered additional evidence submitted to it and denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id. at 1-5).

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) in this Court on February 23, 2017. The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings. (See Doc. 20). This case is ripe for review.

         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)).[1] 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) has the residual functioning capacity (“RFC”) to 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. 2013).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2015. (Tr. at 22). At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 29, 2010, the alleged onset date. (Id.). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease and depression. (Id. at 23). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled 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, and 416.926. (Id.).

         At step four, the ALJ found the following:

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR [§§] 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except occasional climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasional balance, stoop, balance, crouch, kneel, crawl; frequent handling objects, that is gross manipulation, with the left non-dominant hand; frequent fingering, that is fine manipulation, with the left non-dominant hand; occasional exposure to moving mechanical parts; occasional operating a motor vehicle; occasional exposure to unprotected heights; able to perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks; occasional, superficial interaction with the public.

(Id. at 25).

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as a case manager. (Id. at 31). The ALJ considered Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, and found that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Id. at 32). The ALJ noted that the vocational expert identified the following representative occupation that Plaintiff was able to perform: marking clerk, DOT # 209.687-026, unskilled, light work with a SVP of 2; welding machine feeder, DOT # 819.687-010, unskilled, light work with a SVP of 2; and motel maid, DOT # 323.687-014, SVP 2, unskilled, light work with a SVP of 2. (Id. at 32). In addition, the vocational expert testified that Plaintiff could perform several sedentary jobs such as: shank taper, DOT # 788.687-114, unskilled, sedentary work with a SVP of 2; final assembler optical, DOT # 713.687-018, unskilled, ...


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