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Knowles v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

March 21, 2014

JOSEPH PHILLIP KNOWLES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant,

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S [15] OBJECTIONS, ADOPTING MAGISTRATE'S [14] FINDINGS OF FACT AND RECOMMENDATION, DENYING PLAINTIFF'S [1] COMPLAINT AND [12] MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT SEEKING REVERSAL OR REMAND, AND AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

HALIL SULEYMAN OZERDEN, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Joseph Phillip Knowles' Objections [15] to Magistrate Judge Robert H. Walker's Proposed Findings of Fact and Recommendation [14]. The Magistrate Judge reviewed Plaintiff Joseph Phillip Knowles' Complaint [1] and Memorandum in Support [12] which request the Court reverse the Commissioner's decision or remand the case for further hearing. Compl. [1] at 2. The Magistrate Judge recommended that Plaintiff's Complaint [1] and Memorandum in Support [12] requesting reversal or remand be denied, and that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed. Proposed Findings of Fact and Recommendation [14] at 14. Plaintiff has filed Objections [15] to the Proposed Findings of Fact and Recommendation [14], and Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration has filed a Response [16] to Plaintiff's Objections [15].

After review of the record and the relevant law, the Court, being fully advised in the premises, finds that Plaintiff's Objections [15] should be overruled, that the Magistrate Judge's Proposed Findings of Fact and Recommendation [14] should be adopted in their entirety as the finding of this Court, that Plaintiff's Complaint [1] and Memorandum in Support [12] seeking reversal or remand should be denied, and that the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Standard of Review

Because Plaintiff has filed Objections to the Magistrate's Proposed Findings of Fact and Recommendation, this Court is required to "make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Longmire v. Gust, 921 F.2d 620, 623 (5th Cir. 1991) (party filing written objections is "entitled to a de novo review by an Article III Judge as to those issues to which an objection is made"). In reviewing the Commissioner's decision, a federal court considers only whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards and whether substantial evidence in the record supports her decision. Jones v. Astrue, 691 F.3d 730, 733 (5th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence must be more than a scintilla, but it need not be a preponderance. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d 558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).

To the extent that a plaintiff does not object to portions of a magistrate judge's proposed findings of fact and recommendation, the Court need not conduct a de novo review of it. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). In such cases, a court need only review the proposed findings of fact and recommendation and determine whether they are either clearly erroneous or contrary to law. United States v. Wilson, 864 F.2d 1219, 1221 (5th Cir. 1989).

B. Standard for Entitlement to Social Security Benefits

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has explained that
[t]he claimant has the burden of proving she has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment lasting at least twelve months that prevents her from engaging in substantial gainful activity. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Substantial gainful activity is defined as work activity involving significant physical or mental abilities for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a) and (b). The ALJ uses a five-step sequential process to evaluate claims of disability and decides whether:
(1) the claimant is not working in substantial gainful activity; (2) the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) the claimant's impairment meets or equals a listed impairment in Appendix 1 of the Regulations; (4) the impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work; and (5) the impairment prevents the claimant from doing any other work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
The claimant bears the burden of proof on the first four steps and the burden shifts to the Commissioner for the fifth step. Thus, the claimant must show first that she is no longer capable of performing her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). If the claimant satisfies this burden, then the Commissioner must show that the claimant is capable of engaging in some type of alternative work that exists in the national economy. See Chaparro v. Bowen, 815 F.2d 1008, 1010 (5th Cir. 1987). Once the Commissioner makes this showing, the burden of proof shifts back to the claimant to rebut this finding. Id.

Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452-53 (5th Cir. 2000).

C. The Administrative Law Judge's Decision

Plaintiff completed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on or about August 6, 2009, stating that he "became unable to work because of [his] disabling condition on September 5, 2008, " and was "still disabled." R. [11] at 141. Plaintiff apparently offered no specific information regarding his "condition" at that time. See id. at 141-142. After Plaintiff's application was denied on October 21, 2009, and again on reconsideration on January 27, 2010, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing. R. [11] at 23. The Administrative Law Judge ["ALJ"] conducted a hearing on February 11, 2011. Id.

On June 14, 2011, the ALJ determined (1) that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2013; (2) Plaintiff may have engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 5, 2008, the alleged onset date; (3) Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: obesity, degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder, and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; (4) Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (5) Plaintiff has the residual function capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b), with certain delineated exceptions; (6) Plaintiff is unable to perform any past work; (7) Plaintiff was born on January 22, 1962, and was 46 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date; (8) Plaintiff has a limited education and is able to communicate in English; (9) transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled, " whether or not Plaintiff has transferable job skills; (10) considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual function capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform; and (11) Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, from September 5, 2008, through the date of decision. Id. at 21-29. The ALJ therefore concluded that "[b]ased on the application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits filed on July 31, 2009, the claimant is not disabled under sections 216(I) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act." Id. at 29.

On August 8, 2011, Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision before the Appeals Council. R. [11] at 15. The Appeals Council "found no reason under [its] rules to review the Administrative Law Judge's decision, " and thus "denied [Plaintiff's] request for review." Id. at 1. Plaintiff then filed his Complaint [1] in this Court on November 26, 2012, seeking reversal of the Commissioner's decision that he is not entitled to disability benefits, or a remand for further hearing. Compl. [1] at 2.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Plaintiff's Complaint [1] and Memorandum in Support [12]

In his Complaint [1] and Memorandum in Support [12], Plaintiff essentially raises three arguments in support of his position. Plaintiff first asserts that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed because the ALJ erred as a matter of law in applying an incorrect standard of severity with respect to multiple impairments at step two of the sequential evaluation process, and because that finding is not supported by substantial evidence. Pl.'s Mem. [12] at 1. Plaintiff next argues that the ALJ erred as a matter of law in failing to properly consider or explain the required six factors pertaining to the weight to be afforded Plaintiff's treating physician's testimony in light of the record. Id. Plaintiff finally contends that the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff can perform "light work" is internally inconsistent with the residual function capacity ["RFC"] which is properly categorized in the sedentary range and that ...


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