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Johnson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Pensacola Division

February 28, 2018

ROBERT JAMES JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER, REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ELIZABETH M. TIMOTHY CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This case has been referred to the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to the authority of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rules 72.1(A), 72.2(D) and 72.3 of this court relating to review of administrative determinations under the Social Security Act (“Act”) and related statutes, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. It is now before the court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Act for review of a final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34, and for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-83.

         Upon review of the record before this court, it is the opinion of the undersigned that the findings of fact and determinations of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence; thus, the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 27, 2011, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, and in both applications he alleged disability beginning May 1, 2010 (Tr. 12, 137).[2] His applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, and thereafter Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). A hearing was held on July 1, 2013. On September 18, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff “not disabled, ” as defined under the Act, at any time through the date of his decision (Tr. 137-46). On January 14, 2015, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the matter to the ALJ to proffer post-hearing evidence and to consider Plaintiff's obesity and its impact on his functioning (Tr. 155-57). The ALJ then held a second hearing on July 17, 2015. On August 28, 2015, he again issued a decision that found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 12-27). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of this second decision on September 16, 2016. Thus, the second decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, subject to review in this court. Ingram v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 496 F.3d 1253, 1262 (11th Cir. 2007).

         II. FINDINGS OF THE ALJ

         On August 28, 2015 (date of ALJ decision), the ALJ made several findings relative to the issues raised in this appeal (tr. 12-27):

1) Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through September 30, 2013[3];
2) Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 1, 2010, the alleged onset date;
3) Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obesity, hypertension, social anxiety disorder, learning disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning;
4) 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. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1;
5) Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except he could occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; could frequently climb stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; he was to avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, dusts, and gases; was limited to the simple, routine tasks of unskilled work requiring short, simple instructions and simple work decisions as well as few gradually-introduced changes; needed oral instructions and could not be required to read instructions, write reports, or handle money; could interact with coworkers and supervisors on a basic level but needed a well-spaced work environment to reduce the amount of interaction; and should have had no contact with the public;
6) Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work;
7) Plaintiff was born on May 18, 1979, and was 30 years old, which is defined as a younger individual aged between 18 and 49, on the alleged disability onset date;
8) Plaintiff had a marginal education and was able to communicate in English;
9) Transferability of job skills was not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supported a finding that Plaintiff was “not disabled, ” whether or not he had transferable job skills;
10) Considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed;
11) Plaintiff thus was not under a disability, as defined in the Act, from May 1, 2010, through the date of the decision.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence from the record and was a result of the application of proper legal standards. Carnes v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1215, 1218 (11th Cir. 1991) (“[T]his Court may reverse the decision of the [Commissioner] only when convinced that it is not supported by substantial evidence or that proper legal standards were not applied.”); see also Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1439 (11th Cir. 1997); Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987). “A determination that is supported by substantial evidence may be meaningless . . . if it is coupled with or derived from faulty legal principles.” Boyd v. Heckler, 704 F.2d 1207, 1209 (11th Cir. 1983), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Elam v. R.R. Ret. Bd., 921 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir. 1991). As long as proper legal standards were applied, the Commissioner's decision will not be disturbed if in light of the record as a whole the decision appears to be supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Falge v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 1320, 1322 (11th Cir. 1998); Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1439; Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but not a preponderance; it is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 59 S.Ct. 206, 217, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938)); Lewis, 125 F.3d at 1439. The court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). Even if the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner's decision, the decision must be affirmed if supported by substantial evidence. Sewell v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986).

         The Act defines a disability as an “inability 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. § 423(d)(1)(A). To qualify as a disability the physical or mental impairment must be so severe that the claimant is not only unable to do his previous work, “but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.” Id. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(g), [4] the Commissioner analyzes a ...


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