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Daft v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

April 18, 2018

JERRY LEE DAFT, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JAMES E. SEIBERT, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. SUMMARY

         The Plaintiff advances two arguments, neither of which the Court finds persuasive. Therefore, the Court recommends that the Plaintiff's [ECF No. 10] Motion for Summary Judgment be denied and the Commissioner's [ECF No. 14] Motion for Summary Judgment be granted.

         First, the Plaintiff argues that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in failing to adequately consider whether Plaintiff was disabled at the time of his alleged onset date. Yet, the ALJ expressly states why he does not feel a finding of disability at the Plaintiff's alleged onset date is appropriate. Additionally, the ALJ was not required to make such a finding.

         Second, the Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to adequately explain his reasoning in determining that Plaintiff did not meet or medically equal any of the applicable listed impairments. However, the ALJ discussed thoroughly the listings he thought Plaintiff came the closest to meeting, and discussed the relevant medical evidence in detail, fulfilling his obligations under step three of the sequential evaluation process.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 25, 2013, the Plaintiff, Jerry Lee Daft, Jr., filed a Title II application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and a Title XVI application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). R. 24. The Plaintiff's applications alleged a disability beginning May 30, 2013. R. 24. The Plaintiff's applications were denied on November 15, 2013, and again upon reconsideration on February 14, 2014. R. 24. Thereafter, the Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing on April 10, 2014. R. 24. The Plaintiff, represented by Attorney Ross Miltner, appeared and testified at a hearing in Morgantown, West Virginia on October 28, 2015. R. 24. A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified. R. 24. On November 12, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. R. 21. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's findings on January 18, 2017. R. 5.

         On May 12, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court to obtain judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application. ECF No. 1.

         III. THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         In determining whether the Plaintiff was disabled, the ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920. The first step in the process is determining whether a claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Id. §§ 404.1520(b); 416.920(b). If the claimant is not engaging in substantial gainful activity, then the second step requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment that is severe or a combination of impairments that are severe. Id. §§ 404.1520(c); 416.920(c). If the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments, then the analysis moves to the third step in the sequence, which requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Listings). Id. §§ 404.1520(d); 416.920(d). If an impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, the claimant is disabled. Id. §§ 404.1520(d); 416.920(d). However, if the impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the ALJ must determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), which is the claimant's ability to do physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite the limitations of his impairments. Id. §§ 404.1520(e); 416.920(e).

         After determining the claimant's RFC, the ALJ must determine, at step four, whether the claimant has the RFC to perform the requirements of his past relevant work. Id. §§ 404.1520(f); 416.920(f). If the claimant does not have the RFC to do his past relevant work, then she has established a prima facie case of disability, and the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate, at the final step in the process, that other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can do, given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experiences. Id. §§ 404.1520(g); 416.920(g); see also McLain v. Schweiker, 715 F.2d 866, 868-69 (4th Cir. 1983).

         At step one of the sequential process, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 30, 2013, the alleged onset date. R. 27. At step two, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: cervical degenerative disc disease with stenosis with chronic neck pain, lumbosacral degenerative disc disease with chronic back pain, reflex sympathetic dystrophy and carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obesity, osteoarthritis, history of gastritis, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. R. 27. At the third step, the ALJ found that none of the Plaintiff's impairments or any combination of his impairments met or medically equaled the severity of one of the impairments contained in the listings. R. 27. The ALJ then determined that the Plaintiff had the RFC:

[T]o perform sedentary work, as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) that involves lifting up to 10 pounds occasionally, standing/walking for up to 2 hours, and sitting for up to 6 hours in an 8 hour workday with normal breaks and the following additional limitations: an allowance to alternate sitting or standing positions for up to 2 minutes, at 30 minute intervals without going off task; no more than occasional postural movements, except for no climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; no repetitive rotation, flexion, or extension of the neck; no more than frequent left reaching but no bilateral overhead reaching; no more than frequent handling of objects (gross manipulation) and able to use the left hand to guide and assist the right hand; no more than frequent left fingering (fine manipulation) of items no smaller than the size of a paper clip; avoidance of all exposure to cold and heat and wetness and humidity; avoidance of concentrated exposure to excessive vibration, to irritants such as fume/odors/dust/poorly ventilated areas and chemicals; avoidance of all exposure to unprotected heights, hazardous machinery, and commercial driving; limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, requiring only simple decisions with no fast paced production requirements and few work place changes; no interaction with the public; and no more than occasional interaction with co-workers, and supervisors.

R. 29-30. At step four, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had no past relevant work. R. 37. At step five, the ALJ determined that, “[c]onsidering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can ...


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