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Robinson v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

June 17, 2014

MONIQUE ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CHARLES S. COODY, Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction

The plaintiff applied for applied for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., alleging that she was unable to work because of a disability. She is seeking disability benefits for a closed period from the date of onset on January 15, 2009 until the last date she was insured on December 31, 2010. Her application was denied at the initial administrative level. The plaintiff then requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Following the hearing, the ALJ also denied the claim. The Appeals Council rejected a subsequent request for review. The ALJ's decision consequently became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner).[1] See Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986). The case is now before the court for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). The parties have consented to the United States Magistrate Judge conducting all proceedings in this case and ordering the entry of final judgment, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) and M.D. Ala. LR 73.1. Based on the court's review of the record in this case and the briefs of the parties, the court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.

II. Standard of Review

Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to disability benefits when the person is unable to

engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months...

To make this determination, [2] the Commissioner employs a five-step, sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment meet or equal one of the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1?
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former occupation?
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the economy?
An affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next question, or, on steps three and five, to a finding of disability. A negative answer to any question, other than step three, leads to a determination of "not disabled."

McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986).

The standard of review of the Commissioner's decision is a limited one. This court must find the Commissioner's decision conclusive if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Dyer v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence is "more than a scintilla, " but less than a preponderance; it "is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Crawford v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 363 F.3d 1155, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2004) (quotation marks omitted). The court "may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute... [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner]." Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1240 n. 8 (11th Cir. 2004) (alteration in original) (quotation marks omitted).

[The court must]... scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the [Commissioner's]... factual findings... No similar presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's]... legal conclusions, including determination of the proper standards to be applied in evaluating claims.

Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).

III. The Issues

A. Introduction. The plaintiff was 45 years old on the date of administrative hearing. (R. 47, 61). She has completed high school and taken five semesters of college. (R. 48, 62-63). Her past relevant work experience includes work as a day worker, housekeeper/cleaner, and merchandise deliverer. (R. 24). Following the hearing, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff has severe impairments of "cervical radiculopathy, lumbar spondylosis without myelopathy, brachial neuritis, hypertension, fibromyalgia, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and depression." (R. 13). The ALJ concluded that the plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work, but, using the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P., App. 2, as a framework and relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, she also concluded that there were significant number of jobs in the national economy that the plaintiff could perform. (R. 25-26). Thus, the ALJ concluded that Robinson was not disabled because she has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work with restrictions.

B. Plaintiff's Claims. As stated by the plaintiff, she presents two issues for the Court's review.

I. The Commissioner's decision should be reversed because the ALJ failed to give great weight to the opinion of Ms. Robinson's treating physician, Dr. Oneil Culver.
II. The Commissioner's decision should be reversed because the ALJ committed reversible error by substituting her own opinion in place ...

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