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Warren Youmans v. Michael J. Astrue Commissioner of Social Security

April 24, 2012

WARREN YOUMANS PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alan Kay United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER

This case was referred to the undersigned for full case management [14]. Pending before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for a Judgment of Reversal [9] and Defendant's Motion for a Judgment on the Pleadings [11]. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion will be denied and Defendant's Motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

In September 2006, Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, and for Supplemental Security Income Benefits, under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. (Pl.'s Mem. in Support of Pl.'s Mot. for Judgment of Reversal ("Pl.'s Mem.") [9-1] at 1-2; Def.'s Mem. in Support of Def.'s Mot. for Judgment of Affirmance ("Def.'s Mem.") at 2-3.) Plaintiff's claims were denied, and the denial was upheld at a hearing before a Hearing Officer on August 31, 2009. (Social Security Administration's Amended Decision ("Decision") at 1.)

The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found that Plaintiff has severe impairments of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis and hypertension. (Pl.'s Mem. at 3.) At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, and considered the medical evidence on the record. (See Decision at 4-9.) The ALJ cites a number of doctors who treated or assessed Plaintiff, including: (1) Dr. Kevin Brown in May and July 2006; (2) Dr. John Hayden in April 2007; (3) Dr. Lisa Klohn in May 2007; (4) Dr. Robert Kukla in August 2007; (5) Dr. Desse Zelleke Kassahun in April 2009; and (6) Dr. Crystal Allen in August 2009. (Decision at 6-8. See also Tr. at 267-401.) Each of the doctors offered an opinion about Plaintiff's disability except for Dr. Hayden, who only diagnosed and treated Plaintiff. (Decision at 6-8.)

After having heard Plaintiff's testimony about his medical problems and how they affect his day-to-day activities as well as his capacity to perform certain tasks, the ALJ weighed the doctors' competing opinions. (Id. at 5-8.) In his Decision, the ALJ gave great weight to the opinions of Drs. Klohn and Kukla and little weight to the opinions of Drs. Brown, Kassahun and Allen. (Id. at 7-8.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following abilities:

[Plaintiff can] perform less than a full range of light work, as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). He can lift up to 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally. The claimant can walk/stand with normal breaks for ten minutes at a time for up to 6 hours in an 8 hour workday. He can occasionally climb, balance, bend, stoop, kneel, crouch, squat, and crawl. The claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dust, gases, poor ventilation, and hazards, such as moving machinery or unprotected heights. (Id. at 4-5.)

Based on this finding, a vocational expert testified at the hearing that Plaintiff could perform the requirements of 35% of the unskilled, light jobs and 50% of unskilled, sedentary jobs in the national economy. (Id. at 9.) Such jobs included an inspector, a packer/packaging worker, a finish machine tender and a quality control worker. (Id.) Accordingly, Plaintiff was determined to be not disabled and was denied benefits. (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff filed an appeal in this Court on March 28, 2011.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), gives federal courts jurisdiction to hear a challenge to a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Pinkney v. Astrue, 675 F. Supp. 2d. 9, 14 (D.D.C., 2009). The district court reviews whether the decision is "supported by substantial evidence" and whether the correct legal standards were applied. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Butler v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 992, 999 (D.C. Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla, [it is] such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420 (1971).

The Social Security Administration has established a five-step procedure for determining whether a claimant is entitled to disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). First, the claimant must demonstrate that she is not engaged in "substantial gainful" employment. § 404.1520(b). At the second step, the claimant must establish that she has severe physical or mental impairment which "specifically limits [her] . . . ability to do basic work activities." § 404.1520(c). At step three, the ALJ determines whether the claimant's impairment "meets or equals" an impairment listed in the regulations, if so, a disabled finding must be made. § 404.1520(d). If not, the ALJ assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). § 404.1520(e).

The RFC reflects "what an individual can still do despite his or her limitations." Ross v. Astrue, 636 F. Supp. 2d 127, 132 (D.D.C. 2009). At the fourth step, the claimant must show that based on the RFC, the claimant cannot perform the demands of the claimant's past relevant work. § 404.1520(f). At the fifth step, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate that the claimant cannot perform "other work" based on a consideration of the claimant's RFC, age, education, work experience. § 404.1520(g); see Butler v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 992, 997 (D.C. Cir. 2004).

III. ANALYSIS

In his Motion for a Judgment of Reversal, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ made an incorrect assessment of Plaintiff's RFC. (Pl.'s Mem. at 3-4.) Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ did not properly evaluate Plaintiff's environmental limitations. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ improperly substituted his own ...


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