United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division
JOHN E. OTT, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Sandy Jones ("Plaintiff" or "Jones") seeks review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her applications for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), and Supplemental Social Security Income ("SSI"). (Doc. 1). Jones timely pursued and exhausted her administrative remedies. The case is therefore ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). The case has been assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to this court's general order of reference dated January 14, 2013. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court for disposition of the matter. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), FED. R. CIV. P. 73(a). Upon review of the record and the relevant law, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff protectively filed applications for a period of disability and DIB and for SSI on March 4, 2010, alleging disability beginning January 5, 2007. (R. 103-04, 128-29, 137-40). Her claims were denied initially. ( Id. at 105-019, 122). Thereafter, she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on June 28, 2011. (R. 36). Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing. ( Id. ) Plaintiff, through her counsel, amended her alleged onset date to June 30, 2007. ( Id. at 21, 37). The ALJ denied Plaintiff's applications. (R. at 18-29).
Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council declined Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1-7, 17). Therefore, the ALJ's decision represents the final decision of the Commissioner. ( Id. ) Plaintiff thereafter timely filed this action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), asserting that the findings of the Commissioner are not based upon substantial evidence and that improper legal standards were applied. (Doc. 1).
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
In reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act, this court's role is a narrow one: "Our review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to an inquiry into whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner, and whether the correct legal standards were applied." Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002); see also Lamb v. Bowen, 847 F.2d 698, 701 (11th Cir. 1988). The court gives deference to factual findings and reviews questions of law de novo. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145 (11th Cir. 1991). The court "may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner], rather [it] must scrutinize the record as a whole to determine if the decision reached is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence." Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (quoting Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983)) (internal quotations and other citation omitted). "The Commissioner's factual findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence." Wilson, 284 F.3d at 1221 (citing Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990); Allen v. Bowen, 816 F.2d 600, 602 (11th Cir. 1987)). "Substantial evidence" is "more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Winschel v. Comm'r of Social Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citations omitted). As just noted, conclusions of law made by the Commissioner are reviewed de novo. Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145. "No... presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] conclusions of law." Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982).
A. The Facts
1. Plaintiff's Background
At the time of the ALJ's decision in this case, Plaintiff was forty-two years old with a marginal education having left school after the eighth grade. (R. 63). She has past work as a waitress at Waffle House in 1989. ( Id. 41, 63). She initially reported disability due to post-traumatic stress disorder and back and knee problems. (R. 202).
Plaintiff testified at her administrative hearing that she is an unmarried, homeless woman living with a friend in Carbon Hill, Alabama in an extra bedroom. (R. 38-39). She is 5'11'' and weighs 258 pounds, having gained weight purportedly due to her depression. She also stated that she was being treated for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. (R. 39-40). She further reported that she suffers from back pain, swollen feet and hands, and occasional severe headaches. (R 45-46). She stated that she could stand for only three minutes before needing to sit. (R. 46). She further stated she could walk only up to three feet before needing to sit down due to back pain. (R. 46-47). She further stated that her primary impediment to working is a lack of concentration. (R. 47). She also reported that she has auditory and visual hallucinations. (R. 44). She avoids large crowds because she believes people are "hollering" at her. (R. 48). She attributes her PTSD and depression to both of her children being taken away from her by their stepfather in the 1990s. (R. 40). Her depression was exacerbated by the death of her mother, also in the 1990s. ( Id. )
She believes that if she went back to work, her biggest problem would be an inability to concentrate. (R. 47). She reports having been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"). ( Id. ) She also reports doing little during the day. She takes short naps due to her depression. (R. 55). She does not ...