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Parris v. Colvin

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

August 26, 2014

JEFFERY DUKE PARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOHN E. OTT, Chief Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Jeffery Duke Parris ("Parris") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his claim of disability. (Doc. 1).[1] 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. (Doc. 9). 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 reversed and remanded.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In a determination dated December 20, 2001, the Commissioner found Parris disabled due to testicular cancer. (R. 76).[2] In 2009, the Commissioner performed a Continuing Disability Review and determined that Parris's condition had improved and that his disability ceased effective September 9, 2009. (R. 77-82). A Disability Hearing Officer upheld the determination. (R. 93-103). Parris then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on January 3, 2011. (R. 37-75). Following the hearing, the ALJ found that Parris's testicular cancer was no longer disabling as of September 2009. (R. 21). She further found that Parris has the severe impairments of borderline intellectual functioning and degenerative joint disease of the hip, but concluded that, despite these impairments, Parris is able to perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (R. 21-32). In light of these findings, the ALJ found that Parris was not disabled and that his previous disability ended as of September 2009. (R. 11-36).

Parris requested the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. (R. 7). The Appeals Council denied Parris's request for review on May 31, 2013. (R. 1-6). On that date, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Parris then filed this action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court's review of the Commissioner's decision is narrowly circumscribed. The function of the 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, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1422 (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.

The 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 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).

III. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

A claimant's disability benefits may be terminated upon a finding that there has been medical improvement in the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments (other than improvement not related to ability to work) and the claimant is now able to engage in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. § 423(f)(1). The regulations provide a multi-step process for determining whether disability benefits should be terminated.[3] 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f). The ALJ must determine in sequence:

(1) Whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity;
(2) If not gainfully employed, whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals a listing[4];
(3) If impairments do not meet a listing, whether there has been medical improvement;
(4) If there has been improvement, whether the improvement is related to the ...

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