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Holmes v. Saul

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

September 12, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL,[1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER [2]

          James R. Klindt United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Status

         Frank Lamar Holmes (“Plaintiff”) is appealing the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's (“SSA('s)”) final decision denying his claim for disability income benefits (“DIB”). Plaintiff's alleged inability to work is the result of asthma, atrial fibrillation, diverticulitis, Graves' disease, bulging discs in his back, and sleep apnea. See Transcript of Administrative Proceedings (Doc. No. 11; “Tr.” or “administrative transcript”), filed August 22, 2018, at 80-81, 88, 202. Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on March 10, 2015,[3] alleging a disability onset date of February 1, 2011. Tr. at 184. The application was denied initially, Tr. at 80-85, 86, 87, 102-04, and upon reconsideration, Tr. at 88-95, 97, 98, 106-10.

         On April 24, 2017, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing, during which he heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. at 29-46. Plaintiff was forty-eight years old at the time of the hearing. See, e.g., Tr. at 80 (indicating date of birth). The ALJ issued a Decision on July 5, 2017, finding Plaintiff not disabled through the date last insured. Tr. at 16-24.

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested review of the Decision by the Appeals Council. See Tr. at 171, 180-82. The Appeals Council received additional evidence in the form of a brief authored by Plaintiff's counsel. Tr. at 4, 5; see Tr. at 173-80, 182 (brief). On April 17, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, Tr. at 1-4, thereby making the ALJ's Decision the final decision of the Commissioner. On June 21, 2018, Plaintiff commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by timely filing a Complaint (Doc. No. 1), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.

         On appeal, Plaintiff makes the following arguments: 1) “the ALJ erred in failing to consider all of [Plaintiff's] impairments in assessing his [residual functional capacity (‘RFC')], ” specifically his major depressive disorder; 2) “the ALJ failed to properly assess Plaintiff's [subjective] symptoms”; and 3) “the ALJ's RFC assessment is not supported by competent substantial evidence.” Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Support of Allegations of the Complaint (Doc. No. 17; “Pl.'s Mem.”), filed November 21, 2018, at 5, 6, 9 (emphasis and capitalization omitted). On January 25, 2019, Defendant filed a Memorandum in Support of the Commissioner's Decision (Doc. No. 20; “Def.'s Mem.”) addressing Plaintiff's arguments. After a thorough review of the entire record and consideration of the parties' respective memoranda, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's final decision is due to be affirmed.

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         When determining whether an individual is disabled, [4] an ALJ must follow the five-step sequential inquiry set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations (“Regulations”), determining as appropriate whether the claimant (1) is currently employed or engaging in substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one listed in the Regulations; (4) can perform past relevant work; and (5) retains the ability to perform any work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see also Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant bears the burden of persuasion through step four, and at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).

         Here, the ALJ followed the five-step sequential inquiry. See Tr. at 18-24. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff “did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of February 1, 2011 through his date last insured of September 30, 2016.” Tr. at 18 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step two, the ALJ found that “[t]hrough the date last insured, [Plaintiff] had the following severe impairments: asthma, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), atrial fibrillation status post ablation, Grave[s'] disease, and a history of left-sided cerebral vascular accident (CVA).” Tr. at 18 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step three, the ALJ ascertained that “[t]hrough the date last insured, [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.” Tr. at 18 (emphasis and citation omitted).

         The ALJ determined that through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the following RFC:

[Plaintiff could] perform light work as defined in 20 [C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with limitations. [Plaintiff] must be provided with a sit/stand option and the ability to change position at least every 30 minutes. [Plaintiff could] balance, stoop, and climb ramps and stairs no more than occasionally. [Plaintiff could] never kneel, crouch, crawl, or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. [Plaintiff could] perform overhead reaching tasks no more than occasionally and [could] handle and finger bilaterally no more than frequently. [Plaintiff] must not have concentrated exposure to extreme heat or to respiratory irritants such as dust, fumes, or gases, and must not work around moving mechanical parts or at unprotected heights. [Plaintiff] require[d] a handheld assistive device to reach the workstation but d[id] not require it at the workstation.

Tr. at 19 (emphasis omitted).

         At step four, the ALJ found that “[t]hrough the date last insured, [Plaintiff] was unable to perform any past relevant work.” Tr. at 22 (emphasis and citation omitted). At step five, after considering Plaintiff's age (“47 years old . . . on the date last insured”), education (“a limited education”), work experience, and RFC, the ALJ relied on the testimony of the VE and found that “[t]hrough the date last insured, . . . there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] could have performed, ” Tr. at 22-23 (emphasis and citation omitted), such as “Warehouse Checker”; “Assembler, Small Products”; and “Inspector and Hand Packer, ” Tr. at 23. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff “was not under a disability . . . at any time from February 1, 2011, the alleged onset date, through September 30, 2016, the date last insured.” Tr. at 24 (emphasis and citation omitted).

         III. ...

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