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Alderman v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 16, 2018

DEBBIE ALDERMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MAC R. MCCOY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This cause comes before the Court on Plaintiff Debbie Alderman's Complaint (Doc. 1) filed on October 11, 2016. Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. 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, Procedural History, 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); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505.[1] 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); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505 -404.1511. 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 December 3, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for period of disability and disability insurance benefits with an alleged onset date of January 20, 2012. (See Tr. at 15, 177). The application was denied initially on April 26, 2012 and upon reconsideration on August 16, 2012. (Tr. at 81, 95). A video hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) James G. Myles on February 3, 2015. (Tr. at 34-70). The ALJ issued a partially favorable decision on March 24, 2015. (Tr. at 11-31). The ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled prior to May 1, 2014, but that Plaintiff became disabled on that date and has continued to be disabled through the date of the decision. (Tr. at 25).

         On August 17, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. at 1-6). Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) in this Court on October 11, 2016. Defendant filed an Answer (Doc. 8) on December 12, 2016. The parties filed memoranda in support. (Docs. 14, 16). 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)).[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) has the residual functional 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. 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).

         As an initial matter, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act though December 31, 2016. (Tr. at 17). At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 20, 2012, the alleged onset date. (Id.). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: “myasthenia gravis and degenerative disk [sic] disease status-post disc replacement.” (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, Subpart. P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526)). (Tr. at 19).

         Based on the evidence, the ALJ determined that, prior to May 1, 2014, Plaintiff had the RFC to perform “light work” except Plaintiff “could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She could occasionally perform other postural activities. She could not tolerate exposure to hazards, loud noise, or bright and flashing lights.” (Tr. at 19). After May 1, 2014, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform light work except Plaintiff “cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She cannot tolerate exposure to hazards, loud noise, or bright and flashing lights. In addition, she can only occasionally read fine print and would miss more than three days of work per month.” (Tr. at 23). The ALJ stated that, beginning May 1, 2014, this RFC supported a finding that Plaintiff was disabled. (Id.).

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work since January 20, 2012. (Id.). Specifically, the ALJ found that the demands of Plaintiff's past relevant work exceed the RFC. (Id.).

         At step five, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that, prior to May 1, 2014, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Tr. at 24). Specifically, the ALJ asked the vocational expert (“VE”) whether jobs exist in the national economy for an individual with Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC. (Id.). The VE testified that someone with Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC would be able to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as:

1. Storage Facility Rental Clerk, DOT# 295.367-026, which is performed at the light exertional level, is unskilled, and of which there are 275, 000 jobs in the national economy;
2. Courier or Messenger, DOT# 230.663-010, which is performed at the light exertional level, is unskilled, and of which there are 200, 000 jobs in the national economy; and
3. Housekeeper, DOT# 323.687-014, which is performed at the light exertional level, is unskilled, and of which there are 500, 000 jobs in the national economy.

(Id.).

         Pursuant to Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 00-4p, the ALJ determined that the VE's testimony is consistent with the information contained in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. (Id.). Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy prior to May 1, 2014. (Id.). As a result, the ALJ determined that a finding of “not disabled” was appropriate prior to May 1, 2014. (Id.).

         Beginning May 1, 2014, however, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that there are no jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Tr. at 25). Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that a finding of “disabled” was appropriate after to May 1, 2014. (Id.).

         Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled prior to May 1, 2014, but became disabled on that date and has continued to be disabled through the date of the decision. (Id.).

         D. ...


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