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Eubanks v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 23, 2018

DEWEY L. EUBANKS, 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 Dewey Eubanks' Complaint (Doc. 1) filed on March 31, 2017. Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his 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 REVERSED AND REMANDED 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 his 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 January 23, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for period of disability and disability insurance benefits with an alleged onset date of January 7, 2012. (See Tr. at 71, 225). The application was denied initially on April 16, 2014 and upon reconsideration on August 1, 2014. (Tr. at 135, 150). A video hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Rosanne M. Dummer on December 23, 2015. (Tr. at 91-125). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on February 18, 2016. (Tr. at 68-90). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from January 7, 2012 through the date of the decision. (Tr. at 84).

         On February 22, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. at 1-7). Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) in this Court on March 31, 2017. Defendant filed an Answer (Doc. 11) on July 17, 2017. The parties filed a Joint Memorandum, setting forth their positions and arguments on the issues. (Doc. 22). The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings. (See Doc. 16). 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 Fed.Appx. 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 Fed.Appx. 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, 2018. (Tr. at 73). At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity during the following period, August 2012 through August 2013. (Id.). The ALJ found, however, that there was “a continuous 12-month period(s) during which the claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity.” (Tr. at 74). Thus, the ALJ's “remaining findings address the period(s) the claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity.” (Id.).

         At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: “left shoulder tendinopathy and cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease with low back strain.” (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 75).

         Based on the evidence, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform “light work” except:

[Plaintiff] is able to lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; sit about six of eight hours; and stand/walk about six of eight hours. He could occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He should avoid ladders, ropes, and scaffolds and should not work around unprotected heights. [Plaintiff] could reach overhead on an occasional basis.

(Id.).

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a front desk clerk. (Tr. at 82). The ALJ found that this work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Plaintiff's RFC. (Id.). In comparing Plaintiff's RFC with the physical and mental demands of this work, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is able to perform the job of front desk clerk as it is actually and generally performed. (Id.). Of note, however, the ALJ made no finding that Plaintiff could return to his past relevant work as a firefighter or warehouse worker. (See id.).

         Although not required to proceed to step five, the ALJ made alternative findings for step five. (See id.). At step five, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that there are other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Id.). 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 at the light level such as “(1) price marker (DOT code: 209.587-034), 280, 000; (2) routing clerk (DOT code: 222.587-038), 54, 000; and (3) small parts assembler (DOT code: 706.684-022), 67, 000.” (Tr. at 83). Additionally, at the sedentary level, the VE testified that representative occupations include “(1) document preparer (DOT code: 249.587-018), ...


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