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James A. Murry, Sr. v. Carolyn W. Colvin

May 6, 2013

JAMES A. MURRY, SR. PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY DEFENDANT



MEMORANDUM OPINION

The plaintiff, James A. Murry, Sr., filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits. This matter is presently before the court for consideration of the objections of the Commissioner to the United States Magistrate Judge's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation on this appeal.*fn1 In a lengthy report,*fn2 the magistrate judge concluded that:

(1) The administrative law judge ("ALJ") failed to adequately articulate how he weighed and evaluated the medical opinions and objective medical evidence concerning Murry's claimed mental impairment at step three of the evaluation process; and

(2) The ALJ did not adequately explain his step four determination of Murry's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), nor did he refer to and supplement any of his step two or three findings to support the RFC determination.

The magistrate judge recommended that the matter be remanded to the Commissioner of Social Security for further consideration. After conducting a de novo review of the record and those portions of the magistrate judge's report to which the Commissioner objects, we find that we are in agreement with the magistrate judge's findings and recommendation.

Murry was forty-three years old on the alleged onset date of his disability in 2007. Murry was involved in a motor vehicle accident approximately ten months prior to the alleged onset date. After his initial claim for disability benefits was denied, he appealed the decision. He gave testimony at a hearing before an ALJ. A vocational expert and Murry's wife also testified. The ALJ concluded that Murry retained the RFC to perform sedentary work with certain restrictions and thus was not disabled. (AR*fn3 23; 25).

In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ completed the five-step evaluation process required by the Code of Federal Regulations ("CFR"). As explained by the ALJ:

Under the authority of the Social Security Act, the Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled (20 CFR 404.1520(a) and 416.920(a)). The steps are followed in order. If it is determined that the claimant is or is not disabled at a step of the evaluation process, the evaluation will go on to the next step.

At step one, the undersigned [ALJ] must determine whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity (20 CFR 404.1520(b) and 416.920(b)). Substantial gainful activity (SGA) is defined as work activity that is both substantial and gainful. "Substantial work activity" is work activity that involves doing significant physical or mental activities (20 CFR 404.1572(a) and 416.972(a)). "Gainful work activity" is work that is usually done for pay or profit, whether or not a profit is realized (20 CFR 404.1572(b) and 416.972(b)). Generally, if an individual has earnings from employment or self-employment above a specific level set out in the regulations, it is presumed that he has demonstrated the ability to engage in SGA (20 CFR 404.1574, 404.1575, 416.974, and 416.975). If an individual engages in SGA, he is not disabled regardless of how severe his physical or mental impairments are and regardless of his age, education, and work experience. If the individual is not engaging in SGA, the analysis proceeds to the second step.

At step two, the undersigned must determine whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment that is "severe" or a combination of impairments that is "severe" (20CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)). An impairment or combination of impairments is "severe" within the meaning of the regulations if it significantly limits an individual's ability to perform basic work activities. An impairment or combination of impairments is "not severe" when medical and other evidence establish only a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities that would have no more than a minimal effect on an individuals ability to work (20 CFR 404.1521 and 416.921; Social Security Rulings (SSRs) 85-28, 96-4p). If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments, he is not disabled. If the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the analysis proceeds to the third step.

At step three, the undersigned must determine whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926). If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals the criteria of a listing and meets the duration requirement (20 CFR 404.1509 and 416.909) the claimant is disabled. If it does not, the analysis proceeds to the next step.

Before considering step four of the sequential evaluation process, the undersigned must first determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1520(e) and 416.920(e)). An individual's residual functional capacity is his ability to do physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite limitations from his impairments. In making this finding, the undersigned must consider all of the claimant's impairments, including impairments that are not severe (20 CFR 404.1520(e), 404.1545, 416.920(e), and 416.945; SSR 96-8p).

Next, the undersigned must determine at step four whether the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the requirements of his past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f). The term past relevant work means work performed (either as the claimant actually performed it or as it is generally performed in the national economy) within the last 15 years or 15 years prior to the date that disability must be established. In addition, the work must have lasted long enough for the claimant to learn to do the job and have been SGA (20 CFR 404.1560(b), 404.1565, 416.960(b), and 416.965). If the claimant has the residual functional capacity to do his past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant is unable to do any past relevant work or does not have any past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to the fifth and last step.

At the last step of the sequential evaluation process (29 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)), the undersigned must determine whether the claimant is able to do any other work considering his residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. If the claimant is able to do other work, he is not disabled. Although the claimant generally continues to have the burden of proving disability at this step, a limited burden of going forward with the evidence shifts to the Social Security Administration. In order to support a finding that an individual is not disabled at this step, the Social Security Administration is responsible for providing evidence that demonstrates that other work exists in significant numbers in ...


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