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Harris v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 28, 2018

GAIL HARRIS, 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 Gail Harris's Complaint filed on July 14, 2017. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her claim for 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, 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. § 416.905.[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. §§ 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 May 1, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income with an alleged onset date of February 15, 2014. (Tr. at 93, 194-202). The application was denied initially on August 26, 2014, (Tr. at 93), and upon reconsideration on October 6, 2014, (Tr. at 113). A video hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Christopher L. Dillon on May 10, 2016. (Tr. at 33-56). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 2, 2016. (Tr. at 10-32). The ALJ found Plaintiff not to be under a disability since May 1, 2014, the date Plaintiff's application was filed. (Tr. at 26).

         On June 9, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. at 1-6). Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court on July 14, 2017. (Doc. 1). Defendant filed an Answer on September 26, 2017. (Doc. 13). 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. 17). 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).

         At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 1, 2014, the application date. (Tr. at 15). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: “status-post gunshot wound to the right lower extremity, degenerative joint and disc diseases, a gastrointestinal disorder, an affective disorder, an anxiety-related disorder, and a psychotic disorder.” (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. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926)). (Tr. at 16).

         Based on the evidence, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform work that:

involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds; pushing or pulling similar amounts; standing and/or walking for a total of no more than 2 hours per work day; sitting for a total of 6 hours; no climbing of ropes, ladders, or scaffolding; no more than occasional ability to perform all other postural activity; no foot pedal operation; no more than occasional interaction with supervisors and coworkers, but no more than superficial incidental contact with the public, such as sharing common areas like hallways and elevators; and no more than simple, routine tasks without assembly-line production.

(Tr. at 18).

         At step four, the ALJ made no finding regarding past relevant work. (Tr. at 24). Specifically, the ALJ noted that it was appropriate to expedite step four of the sequential evaluation. (Id.).

         At step five, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Id.). Specifically, the ALJ asked the VE whether jobs exist in the national economy for an individual with Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC. (Tr. at 25). 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. Small Parts Assembler, (Dictionary of Occupational Titles) (DOT) Code 706.684-022, which is light, unskilled work with a specific vocational preparation (SVP) of 2. According to the vocational expert, there are approximately 22, 000 such jobs in the national economy.
2. Electronics Worker (DOT Code 726.687-010), which is light, unskilled work with an SVP of 2. According to the vocational expert, there are approximately 10, 000 such jobs in the national economy.
3. Shipping/Receiving Weigher, (DOT Code 222.387-074), which is light, unskilled work with an SVP of 2. According to the vocational expert, there are approximately 19, 000 jobs in the national economy.

(Tr. at 25).

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

         Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability since May 1, 2014, the date Plaintiff's ...


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