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Jones v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division

August 21, 2014

CAROLYN DENISE JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Carolyn Denise Jones brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act. She seeks review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), who denied her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Ms. Jones timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies available before the Commissioner. The case is thus ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the following reasons, the court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

Ms. Jones was 46 years old at the time of her hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Compare Tr. 133 with Tr. 9. She has completed her General Education Diploma ("GED"). Tr. 30. Her past work experience includes employment as a door assembler. Tr. 152. She claims she became disabled on June 7, 2010, due to back pain; numbness in her hands, feet, and face; an inability read and write well; anxiety and depression; and high blood pressure. Tr. 151. Her last period of work ended on June 1, 2003. Id.

On June 7, 2010, Ms. Jones protectively filed a Title XVI application for SSI on that date. Tr. 9. On September 2, 2010, the Commissioner initially denied these claims. Id. Ms. Jones timely filed a written request for a hearing on October 19, 2010. Id. The ALJ conducted a hearing on the matter on January 6, 2012. Id. On January 24, 2012, he issued his opinion concluding Ms. Jones was not disabled and denying her benefits. Tr. 21. She timely petitioned the Appeals Council to review the decision on February 9, 2012. Tr. 5. On May 13, 2013, the Appeals Council issued a denial of review on her claim. Tr. 1.

Ms. Jones filed a Complaint with this court on July 3, 2013, seeking review of the Commissioner's determination. Doc. 1. The Commissioner answered on October 31, 2013. Doc. 7. Ms. Jones filed a supporting brief (doc. 10) on December 12, 2013, and the Commissioner responded with her own (doc. 13) on February 23, 2014.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of this court is to determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether proper legal standards were applied. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002). This court must "scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence." Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. It is "more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Id.

This court must uphold factual findings that are supported by substantial evidence. However, it reviews the ALJ's legal conclusions de novo because no presumption of validity attaches to the ALJ's determination of the proper legal standards to be applied. Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 1993). If the court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient reasoning for determining that the proper legal analysis has been conducted, it must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).

STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

To qualify for disability benefits and establish his or her entitlement for a period of disability, a claimant must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and the Regulations promulgated thereunder.[1] The Regulations define "disabled" as "the inability to do 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 twelve (12) months." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). To establish an entitlement to disability benefits, a claimant must provide evidence about a "physical or mental impairment" that "must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.

The Regulations provide a five-step process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). The Commissioner must determine in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently employed;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals an impairment listed by the Commissioner;
(4) whether the claimant can perform his or her past work; and
(5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy.

Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing to formerly applicable C.F.R. section), overruled on other grounds by Johnson v. Apfel, 189 F.3d 561, 562-63 (7th Cir. 1999); accord McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986). The sequential analysis goes as follows:

Once the claimant has satisfied steps One and Two, she will automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment but cannot perform her work, the burden shifts to the [Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some other job.

Pope, 998 F.2d at 477; accord Foote v. Chater, 67 F.3d 1553, 1559 (11th Cir. 1995). The Commissioner must further show that such work exists in the national economy in significant numbers. Id.

ALJ FINDINGS

After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ made the ...


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