United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, District Judge.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Willie Fred Jackson seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security affirming the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), who denied Mr. Jackson's claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and his claim for supplemental security income (Doc. 1). As discussed below, the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision. Therefore, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.
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 [his] legal conclusions with close scrutiny.'" Riggs v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 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 ALJ's findings. "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. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 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. Comm'r of Soc. 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).
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND:
Mr. Jackson filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income on May 26, 2010. (Doc. 8-6, pp. 134-37; pp. 138-41). The Commissioner initially denied these claims, and Mr. Jackson requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Doc. 8-3, p. 96). An ALJ conducted a hearing on November 21, 2011. (Doc. 8-3, p. 35).
Mr. Jackson was 49 years old and had a high school education at the time of the administrative hearing. (Doc. 8-3, p. 40). He had past work experience as a construction worker, manhole inspector/repairer and working foreman for manhole repair. (Doc. 8-3, p. 30). Mr. Jackson alleged that he became disabled on April 27, 2010 because of a neck injury, a back injury, and a spinal injury. (Doc. 8-3, p. 40). He testified that his average daily pain level was a seven or eight on a zero-to-ten scale. (Doc. 8-3, p. 51).
On February 23, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that Mr. Jackson was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 8-3, p. 31). He found that Mr. Jackson met the insured status requirements of the Act and had not engaged any gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (Doc. 8-3, p. 23). The ALJ determined that Mr. Jackson suffered from the following severe impairments: cervical disk herniation at C5/6 status post anterior cervical discectomy and fusion with bone graft, mild degenerative disc disease/osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine, and hypertension. (Doc. 8-3, p. 23). However, he concluded that these impairments, individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Doc. 8-3, p. 24).
Next, the ALJ determined that Mr. Jackson retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except that Mr. Jackson must avoid concentrated exposures to heat, cold and vibration; Mr. Jackson cannot work with hazardous machinery or unprotected heights; Mr. Jackson can only occasionally climb stairs and ramps, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; Mr. Jackson cannot reach overhead with the bilateral upper extremities; and Mr. Jackson can only occasionally push or pull with the bilateral upper extremities. (Doc. 8-3, p. 25).
In making this finding, the ALJ considered Mr. Jackson's testimony. However, he found Mr. Jackson's testimony, to the extent that it differed from the RFC assessment, was not credible. (Doc. 8-3, p. 29). The ALJ reasoned that Mr. Jackson's inconsistent and conservative treatment, Mr. Jackson's daily activities, and the objective medical evidence supported the RFC finding. (Doc. 8-3, pp. 28-29). Additionally, the ALJ relied on reports from Mr. Jackson's medical records; from his chiropractor, consultative medical examiner Dr. Rodolfo Veluz; and from non-examining state agency consultant Dr. Robert Heilpern. (Doc. 8-3, p. 29).
Based on the RFC determination, the ALJ found that Mr. Jackson is unable to perform his past work, but jobs exist in the national economy and in Alabama in significant numbers that Mr. Jackson can perform. (Doc. 8-3, p. 30). The ALJ relied on the testimony from the vocational expert ("VE") that Mr. Jackson can work as an assembler, sealer, or bench worker. (Doc. 8-3, p. 31). For these reasons, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Jackson is not disabled under the Social Security Act.
On December 22, 2012, the Appeals Council declined Mr. Jackson's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Doc. 8-3, pp. 1-6). Having exhausted all administrative remedies, Mr. Jackson filed this action for judicial review pursuant to §205(g) and ...