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Grome v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

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

September 23, 2019

JAMES GROME, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER[1]

          MONTE C. RICHARDSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff’s appeal of an administrative decision denying his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Following an administrative hearing held on June 8, 2017, the assigned Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a decision on September 11, 2017, finding Plaintiff not disabled from September 22, 2014, the amended alleged disability onset date, through June 30, 2017, the date last insured.[2] (Tr. 8-21, 46-97.)

         In reaching the decision, the ALJ found that through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), lumbar disc protrusion at ¶ 5-S1 causing neural foraminal narrowing, and carpal tunnel syndrome (“CTS”). (Tr. 13.) The ALJ also found that through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of light work. (Tr. 15.) Then, after finding that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work, the ALJ concluded, in light of the testimony of the vocational expert (“VE”), that “there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy” that Plaintiff could have performed through his date last insured.[3] (Tr. 19-20.)

         Plaintiff is appealing the Commissioner’s decision that he was not disabled from September 22, 2014 through June 30, 2017. Plaintiff has exhausted his available administrative remedies and the case is properly before the Court. Based on a review of the record, the briefs, and the applicable law, the Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. Standard of Review

         The scope of this Court’s review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988), and whether the Commissioner’s findings are supported by substantial evidence, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Crawford v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). Where the Commissioner’s decision is supported by substantial evidence, the district court will affirm, even if the reviewer would have reached a contrary result as finder of fact, and even if the reviewer finds that the evidence preponderates against the Commissioner’s decision. Edwards v. Sullivan, 937 F.2d 580, 584 n.3 (11th Cir. 1991); Barnes v. Sullivan, 932 F.2d 1356, 1358 (11th Cir. 1991). The district court must view the evidence as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable as well as unfavorable to the decision. Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1560 (11th Cir. 1995); accord Lowery v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1992) (stating the court must scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness of the Commissioner’s factual findings).

         II. Discussion

         A. The Parties’ Positions

         Plaintiff’s first argument on appeal is that the ALJ erred in failing to comply with Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 00-4p, which imposes a duty on the ALJ to identify and resolve apparent conflicts between the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) and the VE’s testimony, as to the “table worker” job. Specifically, Plaintiff points out that under the DOT, the “table worker” job requires frequent fingering, which was inconsistent with the ALJ’s RFC assessment limiting Plaintiff only to occasional fingering. As such, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ should either eliminate the “table worker” job from consideration or ask the VE to explain how a person limited to occasional fingering could perform a job requiring frequent fingering. Defendant agrees that in light of Washington v. Commissioner of Social Security, 906 F.3d 1353, 1361-65 (11th Cir. 2018), and the specific facts of the present case, the Commissioner should no longer consider the “table worker” job. Nevertheless, Defendant maintains that the two remaining representative occupations cited by the VE support the ALJ’s finding that there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed.

         Plaintiff’s second argument concerns those two occupations, namely, the “laundry sorter” job and the “garment sorter” job. He argues that the ALJ erred in relying on the VE’s testimony that there were 300, 000 “laundry sorter” jobs and 225, 000 “garment sorter” jobs in the national economy. According to Plaintiff, these numbers “appear to be grossly overstated [even to] a lay person, ” and, at a minimum, the ALJ should have questioned the numbers cited by the VE. (Doc. 18 at 8.) Plaintiff adds:

The beginning part of the [VE’s] response gives a clue as to why the numbers appear to be so overstated. The [VE] stated[:] “I can give you a representative group.” Although it is not clear through his testimony, it should be apparent to the [ALJ] and this [C]ourt what he means by a representative group.
The Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics[, ] groups occupations by similarities. The groups are known [as] specific occupational categories (SOC). The Department of Labor has developed a crosswalk grouping DOT numbers into SOC groups. The SOC group for garment sorter is 51-9199 “production workers, all other.” . . . There are 1590 separate DOT occupations in SOC group 51-9199. According to the report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, there are 230, 760 persons employed in this SOC group. So how did the [VE] come up with 225, 000 jobs for this one DOT occupation? He did not. The number was for the entire group. The job he identified was a representative job within the group. The problem with the testimony is that the adjudicator is not advised of the number of jobs for that one particular DOT occupation. The hypothetical to the [VE] only allowed for occasional fingering. Although the one DOT occupation cited by the [VE] only requires occasional fingering, the other DOT occupations may require frequent fingering. The judge cannot determine whether this is the case, without knowing the other DOT numbers included in the [VE’s] estimates. Therefore, he cannot comply with SSR 00-4P without having this information. . . .
Also attached is information regarding the occupation of a laundry sorter (classifier)[.] [T]his job is found within group 51-9061 (inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers). There are 782 DOT occupations within this group. In the entire group, there are 557, 510 persons employed. It is inconceivable that 225, 000 of these jobs involves [sic] classifying laundry. . . .
In this case, had the [ALJ] not included the limitation of occasional fingering, it most likely would be an exercise in futility to remand this matter for further [VE] testimony. However, many of the jobs included in the occupational groups, in which garment and laundry sorter are found, may require frequent ...

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