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Burns v. Colvin

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

September 24, 2014

MIRANDA BURNS, Plaintiff.
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Comissioner, SSA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KARON OWEN BOWDRE, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On December 22, 2010, the claimant, Miranda Burns, applied for supplemental security income under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (R. 9). The claimant alleged disability beginning on January 6, 2011, because of back pain, carpel tunnel syndrome, seizure disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, and a history of migraines; however, at the hearing, the claimant amended the alleged onset date to March 1, 2011. (R. 9). The Commissioner denied the claim both initially and on reconsideration. The claimant filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, and the ALJ held a hearing on April 23, 2012. (R. 9).

In a decision dated August 24, 2012, the ALJ found that the claimant was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and, thus, was ineligible for supplemental security income. (R. 17). On November 27, 2013, the Appeals Council denied the claimant's request for review; consequently, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. (R. 1). The claimant has exhausted her administrative remedies, and this court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1631(c)(3). For the reasons stated below, this court affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

II. ISSUES PRESENTED

The claimant presents two issues: 1) whether the ALJ erroneously rejected a treating medical source opinion; and 2) whether the ALJ properly applied the Eleventh Circuit's pain standard.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The standard for reviewing the Commissioner's decision is limited. This court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if the Commissioner applied the correct legals standards and if the factual conclusions are supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Graham v. Apfel, 129 F.3d 1420, 1422 (11th Cir. 1997); Walker v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 996, 999 (11th Cir. 1987).

"No... presumption of validity attaches to the [Commissioner's] legals conclusions, including determination of the proper standards to be applied in evaluating claims." Walker, 826 F.2d at 999. This court does not review the Commissioner's factual determinations de novo. The court will affirm those factual determinations that are supported by substantial evidence. "Substantial evidence" is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson V. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

The court must keep in mind that opinions, such as whether a claimant is disabled, the nature and extent of a claimant's residual functional capacity, and the application of vocational factors, "are not medical opinions, ... but are, instead, opinions on issues reserved to the Commissioner because they are administrative findings that are dispositive of a case; i.e., that they would direct the determination or decision of disability." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527 (e), 416.927(d). Whether the Claimant meets the listing and is qualified for Social Security disability benefits is a question reserved for the ALJ, and the court "may not decide facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] judgement for the of the Commissioner." Dyer v. Bernhardt, 395 F.3d 1206, 1210 (11th Cir. 2005). Thus, even if the court were to disagree with the ALJ about the significance of certain facts, the court has no power to reverse the finding as long as substantial evidence in the record supports it.

The court must "scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the [Commissioner]'s factual findings." Walker, 826 F.2d at 999. A reviewing court must not look only to those parts of the record that support the decision of the ALJ, but also must view the record in its entirety and take account of evidence that detracts from the evidence relied upon by the ALJ. Hillsman v. Bowen, 804 F.2d 1179, 1180 (11th Cir. 1987).

IV. LEGAL STANDARD

Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), a person is entitled to disability benefits when the person cannot "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). To make this determination, the Commissioner employs a five-step, sequential evaluation process:

(1) Is the person presently unemployed?
(2) Is the person's impairment severe?
(3) Does the person's impairment meet or equal one of the specific impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1?
(4) Is the person unable to perform his or her former occupation?
(5) Is the person unable to perform any other work within the economy?
An affirmative answer to any of the above questions leads either to the next question, or, on steps three and five, to a finding of disability. A negative answer to any question, other than step three, leads to a determination of "not disabled."

McDaniel v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 1026, 1030 (11th Cir. 1986); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

The ALJ must state with particularity the weight given different medical opinions and the reasons, and the ALJ's failure to do so is reversible error. Sharfarz v. Bowen, 825 F.2d 278, 279 (11th Cir. 1987); see also MacGregor v. Bowen, 786 F.2d 1050, 1053 (11th Cir. 1986). The ALJ must give the testimony of a treating physician substantial or considerable weight unless "good cause" is shown to the contrary. Crawford v. Commissioner, 363 F.3d 1155, 1159 (11th Cir. 2004). The Commissioner may reject any medical opinion if the evidence supports a contrary finding. Sryock v. Heckler, 764 F.2d 834, 835 (11th Cir. 1985). Where the ALJ articulates specific reasons for failing to give the opinion of a treating physician controlling weight and those reasons are supported by substantial evidence, the ALJ commits no reversible error. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1212 (11th Cir. 2005).

In evaluating pain and other subjective complaints, the Commissioner must consider whether the claimant demonstrated an underlying medical condition, and either "(1) objective medical evidence that confirms the severity of the alleged pain arising from that condition or (2) that the objectively determined medical condition is of such a severity that it can reasonably be expected to give rise to the alleged pain." Holt v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1221, 1223 (11th Cir. 1991) (emphasis added); see also Wilson v. Barnhart, 284 F.3d 1219, 1221 (11th Cir. 2002); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529. In applying the pain standard, for the ALJ to discredit the claimant's ...


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