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Bender v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Northern Division

September 23, 2014

EDNA BENDER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


SONJA F. BIVINS, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Edna Bender (hereinafter "Plaintiff"), brings this action seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. On April 10, 2014, the parties consented to have the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case. (Doc. 19). Thus, the action was referred to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. Upon careful consideration of the administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is hereby ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff protectively filed an application for supplemental security income on June 14, 2010. (Tr. at 236-39, 258). In her application, Plaintiff alleged that she has been disabled since May 30, 2010, due to "back problems" and "knee pain." (Id. at 236, 258, 262). Plaintiff's applications were denied and upon timely request, she was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Perry Martin (hereinafter "ALJ") on June 14, 2012. (Id. at 31). Plaintiff attended the hearing with her counsel and provided testimony related to her claims. (Id. at 35). A vocational expert ("VE") also appeared at the hearing and provided testimony. (Id. at 50). On July 19, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 25). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 8, 2013. (Id. at 1). The parties waived oral argument (Doc. 20) and agree that this case is now ripe for judicial review and is properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

II. Issues on Appeal

A. Whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's RFC assessment with respect to Plaintiff's mental limitations?
B. Whether the ALJ erred in relying on the testimony of the vocational expert?

III. Factual Background

Plaintiff was born on July 6, 1966, and was forty-five years of age at the time of her administrative hearing on June 14, 2012. (Tr. 31, 35). She testified that she lives with her children, ages 20, 17, and 12. (Id. at 36). Plaintiff graduated from high school and received training in "management" and as an "accounting specialist" during two years of college. (Id. at 37, 263). In her Function Report dated July 25, 2010, Plaintiff stated that her interests include reading and talking to relatives on the telephone. (Id. at 279).

In her Disability Report dated June 30, 2010, Plaintiff reported that she worked from 1988 to 1991 at a telephone collection agency, making collection calls for utility services. (Id. at 263-64). Following a maternity leave, Plaintiff did not return to the job because of objections over her pay.[1] (Id. at 40).

On May 30, 2010, Plaintiff fell in Walmart and fractured her left patella. (Id. at 323). On June 10, 2010, Plaintiff underwent an open reduction internal fixation of the left knee. (Id. at 331). Four days later, on June 14, 2010, Plaintiff protectively filed her application for supplemental security income benefits based on "back problems" and "knee pain."[2] (Id. at 258, 262).

The following month, on July 25, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Function Report. In the Report, Plaintiff stated that she was not able to care for her children, that she could not take care of her personal needs, and that she could not do indoor or outdoor chores. (Id. at 276-77). She also stated she is able to handle her own bills, banking, and finances. (Id. at 277-78).

Plaintiff was initially denied benefits by the Agency on October 8, 2010. (Id. at 66). On November 2, 2010, Plaintiff updated her condition in her "Disability Report-Appeal, " stating that her leg was stiff and painful (although she could drive), that her back pain was worse, and that she was depressed by the pain and the fact that her leg "look[ed] ugly with screws." (Id. at 302). Plaintiff reported, however, that she had not sought any mental health treatment for her depression. (Id. at 303).

Plaintiff requested and was granted an administrative hearing on June 14, 2012. (Id. at 33). At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that she did not begin seeking treatment for depression until July 2011. (Id. at 46). Plaintiff listed her medications as Hydrocodone and Ibuprofen for knee pain. (Id. at 264).

IV. Analysis

A. Standard of Review

In reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to determining 1) whether the decision of the Secretary is supported by substantial evidence and 2) whether the correct legal standards were applied.[3] Martin v. Sullivan , 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen , 792 F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan , 921 F.2d 1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991); Bloodsworth v. Heckler , 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (holding substantial evidence is defined as "more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance" and consists of "such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion."). In determining whether substantial evidence exists, a court must view the record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable, as well as unfavorable, to the Commissioner's decision. Chester v. Bowen , 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir. 1986); Short v. Apfel , 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10163, *4 (S.D. Ala. June 14, 1999).

B. Discussion

An individual who applies for Social Security disability benefits must prove his or her disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512, 416.912. Disability is defined as 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 which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). The Social Security regulations ...

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