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Jones v. Colvin

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

September 15, 2014

WILLIAM WADDELL JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN, District Judge.

William Waddell Jones ("plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ["DIB"]. Upon review of the record, the submissions of the parties, and the relevant law, the court is of the opinion that the Commissioner's decision is due to be affirmed.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff initially filed an application for a period of disability and DIB on August 25, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of June 9, 2009. (R. 146-48.) This application was denied on December 13, 2010 by the Social Security Administration ["SSA"] (R. 68.)[1] Subsequently, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ["ALJ"], which was held on August 8, 2012. (R. 78.) During the hearing, the initial alleged onset date of June 9, 2009 was amended to February 22, 2011. (R. 47, 55.) The ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limited his ability to perform basic work activities. (R. 23.) In light of this finding, the ALJ denied plaintiff's request for a period of disability and DIB on August 13, 2012. (R. 24.)

On September 28, 2012, plaintiff requested the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. (R. 7.) After considering his request for review, the Appeals Council "found no reason under [its] rules to review the Administrative Law Judge's decision, " and on May 24, 2013 denied plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1.) Therefore, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. ( Id. ) Following denial of review by the Appeals Council, plaintiff filed an appeal in this court on June 13, 2013. (Doc. 1.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In reviewing claims brought under the Social Security Act, this court "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 the court 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, 894 F.2d at 1529; 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 Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

Conclusions of law made by the Commissioner are reviewed de novo. Cornelius, 936 F.2d at 1145. "[N]o... presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] conclusions of law." Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1389 (11th Cir. 1982).

III. DISCUSSION

A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION

The regulations require the Commissioner to follow a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is eligible for a period of disability and DIB.[2] See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1)-(2); Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470 (1986). For the purposes of this evaluation, the meaning of disability is the "inability 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 has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1); 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The specific steps in the evaluation process are as follows:

1. Substantial Gainful Employment

First, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 137 (1987).[3] If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner will find that the claimant is not disabled, regardless of the claimant's medical condition or her age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b); § 416.920(b). "Under the first step, the claimant has the burden to show that she is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity." Reynolds-Buckley v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 457 F.Appx. 862, 863 (11th Cir. 2012).[4]

The ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 22, 2011, ...


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