United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
RACHEL L. BRYANT, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, District Judge.
Claimant Rachel L. Bryant commenced this action on August 31, 2012, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). She seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security,  affirming the decision of the Administrative Law Judge who denied her claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income benefits. For the reasons stated below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's ruling. (Doc. 1).
STANDARD OF REVIEW:
The scope of review in this matter is limited. "When, as in this case, the ALJ denies benefits and the Appeals Council denies review, " the Court "review[s] the ALJ's factual findings with deference' and her legal conclusions with close scrutiny.'" Riggs v. Social Sec. Admin., Com'r, 522 Fed.Appx. 509, 510-11 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Doughty v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir. 2001)).
The Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the findings of the Commissioner. "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Crawford v. Commissioner of Social Security, 363 F.3d 1155, 1158 (11th Cir. 2004). In making this evaluation, the Court may not "reweigh the evidence or decide the facts anew, " and the Court must "defer to the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence even if the evidence may preponderate against it." Gaskin v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 533 Fed.Appx. 929, 930 (11th Cir. 2013).
With respect to the ALJ's legal conclusions, the Court must determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. If the Court finds an error in the ALJ's application of the law, or if the Court finds that the ALJ failed to provide sufficient reasoning to demonstrate that the ALJ conducted a proper legal analysis, then the Court must reverse the ALJ's decision. Cornelius v. Sullivan, 936 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (11th Cir. 1991).
On February 28, 2008, Mrs. Bryant applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 6-6, pp. 31-33). Mrs. Bryant filed an application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act and an application for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI (Doc. 6-3, p. 49).
The Social Security Administration denied Mrs. Bryant's application on May 30, 2008. (Doc. 6-5, pp. 4-13). At Mrs. Bryant's request, on April 14, 2010, an Administrative Law Judge conducted a hearing concerning Mrs. Bryant's application. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 64-85). Mrs. Bryant testified at a hearing in the presence of an impartial vocational expert. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 64-85). At the time of her hearing, Mrs. Bryant was 33 years old. Mrs. Bryant has completed the eleventh grade. (Doc. 6-3, p. 70). Her past relevant work experience is as a hotel breakfast room attendant, a hotel receptionist, and a thrift store sales clerk. (Doc. 6-3, pp. 70-71).
On July 19, 2010, the ALJ denied Mrs. Bryant's request for disability benefits, concluding that Mrs. Bryant did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to one listed in, the Regulations. (Doc. 6-3, p. 52). In her ten page decision, the ALJ described the "five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled" and explained that "[i]f it is determined that the claimant is or is not disabled at a step of the evaluation process, the evaluation will not go on to the next step." (Doc. 6-3, p. 50).
The ALJ found that Mrs. Bryant had not "engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 13, 2008, the alleged onset date." (Doc. 6-3, p. 51). In addition, the ALJ concluded that Mrs. Bryant had "the following severe impairments: obesity, depressive disorder and anxiety disorder." (Doc. 6-3, p. 51). The judge stated, "the above impairments impose more than a minimal functional limitation on [Mrs. Bryant]'s ability to do basic work activity." (Doc. 6-3, p. 52). Still, concerning Mrs. Bryant's mental impairments, the judge opined:
[Mrs. Bryant]'s mental impairments, considered singly and in combination, do not meet or medically equal the criteria of listings 12.04 and 12.06. In making this finding, the undersigned has considered whether the "paragraph B" criteria are satisfied. To satisfy the "paragraph B" criteria, the mental impairments must result in at least two of the following: marked restriction of activities of daily living ("ADLs"); marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. A marked limitation means more than moderate but less than extreme. Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration, means three episodes within [one] year, or an average of once every [four] months, each lasting for at least [two] weeks."
(Doc. 6-3, p. 53).
The ALJ found that Mrs. Bryant's ADLs were mildly restricted. (Doc. 6-3, p. 53). Though Mrs. Bryant noted she was too exhausted to cook, medical doctors "observed that [Mrs. Bryant]... perform[s] her chores and ADLs ...