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Barron v. Berryhill

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

November 8, 2018

JAMES P. BARRON, JR. PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL T. PARKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff James P. Barron, Jr. brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for disability insurance benefits. Having reviewed the parties' submissions, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the Commissioner's final decision should be affirmed.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff, aged twenty-five (25) at the time of his alleged disability onset, filed for disability insurance benefits on November 18, 2016. Administrative R. [10] at 26, 121, 189. After the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff's claim, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on July 25, 2017. Id. at 54. After the hearing, the ALJ issued an opinion in which he considered Plaintiff's impairments related to his degenerative disc disease, depression, anxiety, apnea/insomnia, and marijuana abuse. Id. at 14. The ALJ concluded, after considering the testimony offered at the hearing and the record, that Plaintiff was not disabled and was not entitled to disability benefits. Id. at 27. Plaintiff then requested review of the ALJ's decision. Id. at 10-11. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, and the ALJ's opinion became the final decision of the Commissioner. Id. at 4. This appeal followed.

         ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE'S DECISION

         In his opinion, the ALJ applied the five-step analysis found in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b)-(g)[1] and found that Plaintiff was not disabled according to the SSA definition. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 4, 2013. Administrative R. [10] at 17. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease status post fusion syndrome, depression, anxiety, apnea/insomnia, and marijuana abuse. Id. The ALJ further noted that the marijuana abuse was not a contributing factor in the determination that Plaintiff was not disabled. Id.

         At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not meet the standard for any of the listed impairments. Id. at 17-18. Specifically, the ALJ considered Listing 1.04 for spinal disorders, and 12.04 and 12.06 for mental impairments, but determined that Plaintiff's ailments did not satisfy the criteria for these Listings. Id. at 18.

         The ALJ then found that Plaintiff was able to perform sedentary work but could only lift fifteen pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. Id. at 20. The residual functional capacity (RFC) also included that Plaintiff had some degree of limitation related to walking, standing, and using his left-lower extremity. Id. Further, Plaintiff could not perform work involving commercial driving, heights, hazardous machinery, climbing ladders, or crowds in his work space, but he could carry out detailed instructions and occasionally interact with the public. Id.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not able to perform his past relevant work. Id. at 25. At step five, the ALJ considered the testimony of a vocational expert (VE) and found that Plaintiff could still perform work that was available in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 26. The VE testified that Plaintiff could work as a semiconductor assembler, a patcher, or a lens inserter. Id. at 26-27. Consequently, after performing the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. Id. at 27.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court will only review the Commissioner's denial of benefits to determine if “(1) the final decision is supported by substantial evidence and (2) whether the Commissioner used the proper legal standards to evaluate the evidence.” Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000). The Commissioner's decision must be affirmed when there is substantial evidence to support the findings. Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 173 (5th Cir. 1995).

         “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion. It is more than a mere scintilla and less than a preponderance.” Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552, 555 (5th Cir. 1995) (internal quotations omitted). Conflicts in evidence are the purview of the Commissioner and are not for the Court to resolve or review de novo. Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 1990). Moreover, “‘[p]rocedural perfection in administrative proceedings is not required' as long as ‘the substantial rights of a party have not been affected.'” Audler v. Astrue, 501 F.3d 446, 448 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Mays v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1362, 1364 (5th Cir.1988)).

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff raises a compound issue on appeal: whether the ALJ erred in considering Plaintiff's mental restrictions, noted at steps two and three, when he performed the RFC assessment, and whether that ...


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